Coroner's inquest reveals details in Lake of the Ozarks drowning
VERSAILLES - Court proceedings began Thursday morning to determine if the Missouri State Highway Patrol acted negligently when an intoxicated man drowned during an arrest at the Lake of the Ozarks in May.
The coroners inquest began in Morgan County Thursday morning and is conducted like a trial. Jurors will determine if a Highway Patrol trooper properly handcuffed 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson and properly placed a life vest on him before he drowned. Trooper Anthony Piercy handcuffed Ellingson in order to conduct a field sobriety test. Piercy had been with the department for nearly two decades.
Trooper Piercy testified Thursday afternoon. Piercy said he did not receive formal training on how to use life vests during arrest and on what to do if someone in custody went into the water. Piercy said he used his best judgement during Ellingson's arrest. "It's hard," he said. "I used to think I could handle any situation thrown at me, but now I know how vulnerable I am."
Troopers arrested Ellingson on suspicion of boating while intoxicated May 31. The patrol's incident report said Ellingson stood up, moved to the side of the boat and fell overboard during the arrest, however, during the inquest troopers said the report is inconclusive in determining exactly how Ellingson exited the boat.
During Thursday morning's proceedings, the coroner revealed Ellingson's cause of death as drowning. The toxicology report also indicated Ellingson had cocaine and alcohol in his system when he died.
Captain Rex M. Scism said the department mandates troopers place handcuffs and a life vest on a suspect, but the order in which those actions must happen is not stated. Corporal Eric Stacks with MSHP said Piercy would not have been able to use the vest as designed because of the handcuffs placed on Ellingson.
A KOMU 8 Reporter is at the inquest and will update this story when more information becomes available.
(EDITORS NOTE: This story has been updated to include notes in Piersey testimony)