Brandon Ellingson: Incomplete Trip

B Ellingson

Tragedy struck the family of Brandon Ellingson May 31st when their son drowned in Lake of the Ozarks while in police custody.

A successful, talented young man, Brandon Ellingson of Clive, Iowa was a champion athlete in hockey and football. With a large friend group and supporters, he had nothing if not a bright future ahead of him.

The last weekend in May of 2014, he partied with a cousin and a handful of his buddies on a boat near a family-owned cabin at the Lake of the Ozarks. With suspicions of boating under the influence, Missouri State Trooper Anthony C. Piercy arrested Ellingson and took him into custody.

After handcuffing Ellingson, Trooper Piercy proceeded to place a Type 3 lifejacket on him. Standard lake procedure requires lake patrolmen to use Type 1 and/or Type 2 lifejackets on arrested passengers, as they are the correct type to be used with an already handcuffed person.

Boating between 38-41 miles per hour, according to the Kansas City Star, Piercy was going at least 10 miles per hour over what would be considered a safe speed with the conditions of the water that evening. Within seconds things took a turn for the worse on the patrol boat.

According to the Kansas City Star, Piercy said, “When I saw a big wave I slowed down to keep things under control but by the time I looked back, he was out [of the boat].” Ellingson fell over board after standing up a little bit, according to the Des Moines Register.

Witnesses to the event, the Moreau family described him as “struggling to keep his head above water for 60-90 seconds, bobbing up and down.” The Moreaus also mentioned how they saw no urgency in Trooper Piercy’s actions to save Ellingson until it was practically too late.

The special prosecutor on this case has recently decided that no criminal charges will be filed against Trooper Piercy. The Morgan County coroner’s inquest determined that the Brandon Ellingson’s death was an accident. Three men and three women listened to hours of testimony, including one hour from Trooper Anthony Piercy. Special Prosecutor, Amanda Greller, said that she agreed with the jurors decision. According to the Kansas City Star, “I do not believe that it meets the legal definition of reckless,” she said. “Criminal recklessness is different than negligence. Do I believe there was negligence here? There’s no way to not find negligence, but it doesn’t reach to criminal recklessness.”

A number of ambiguous, differing explanations have been given by Piercy as to what really happened when he jumped in to save Ellingson. When calling a friend and coworker mere minutes after Ellingson drowned, according to the Kansas City Star, Piercy said “I think I brushed against his foot but I was so tired I nearly drowned myself trying to find the [expletive].” This seemed, at first, like a valiant effort that unfortunately failed.

As Piercy has recently made more public appearances, questions have arisen about the credibility of his word. In a recent interview done with the Kansas City Star, Piercy said, “I grabbed his foot but I couldn’t hold on. I nearly drowned myself.” With obvious differences between his original claim of what the nature of his attempted rescue was and what he stated in his interview, officials are reviewing details of Piercy’s story closer, clarifying each detail.

With the increased revision of everyone’s stories involved with the case, investigators have uncovered new information regarding the friend and fellow Trooper whom Piercy called the afternoon of the incident. Trooper Echternacht was the officer who logged Piercy’s speeds and times for that day.

A report of the boat’s GPS coordinates, which was obtained by The Kansas City Star, showed Piercy was going 39.1 to 43.7 mph just before Ellingson went overboard. Yet the boating accident report, written by Echternacht, listed the operator’s estimated speed as 10 mph.

To show the conditions on Piercy’s boat that night before Ellingson went overboard, two troopers — including lead investigator Cpl. Eric Stacks — set out to simulate and reenact the speed it traveled. The Missouri Highway Patrol, with shocking results, released a video of the reenactment.

That video shows Stacks as the passenger, positioned where Ellingson was on May 31, being rocked in his seat as the speed increased to a maximum of 38 to 40 mph. Stacks gripped a pole with his right hand and even braced himself once with his left hand. Ellingson would have only been able to stabilize himself with his legs.

Despite what some may think, Brandon Ellingson’s death has affected many people right here in Waukee. Community member and mother of three, Sandy Darveau said “As a mother, I feel for the family, as this has to be a great devastation for them. I feel this was a tragic accident. I feel that there needs to be a review of policy of how to properly handle a person arrested on the water.”

A student at Waukee, Ian Coon had similar thoughts to Sandy’s as he said, “I think they should probably have some more training since [Piercy] even told the public that.”

Hopefully, the continuation of this situation will be handled and taken care of as it should. Brandon Ellingson will be remembered and dearly missed.