A 20-year-old man drowned when his life vest came off after he was arrested and handcuffed on a police boat.
The Missouri Highway Patrol is now investigating the case, in which Brandon Ellingson, an Arizona State University student, was arrested on suspicion of boating while intoxicated on the Lake of the Ozarks.
Ellingson was being transported in a police boat, which did not have seatbelts, on Saturday evening. Officials have stated that in accordance with Missouri state law, Ellingson’s hands were cuffed behind his back and he was wearing a life vest.
Ellingson reportedly stood up in the police boat, after which he went overboard; officials are still trying to determine if he fell or jumped into the water.
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Furthermore, they are trying to determine how the life vest came off him. Missouri State Patrol Sgt. Paul Reinsch has specified that at the time, Ellingson was wearing a standard “Level 3” life jacket, which is secured by three buckles on the front of the vest.
“That is a big part of our investigation," Reinsch said. “To determine how it came off after it was placed on him.”
Whether or not the vest was buckled will also play a key role in the investigation.
“He had it on when he entered the water but if came off at some point after he entered the water,” Reinsch stated.
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Reinsch also noted that although the officer jumped into the water and attempted to save Ellingson, he was unable to reach Ellingson.
According to officials, Ellingson’s body was recovered on Sunday morning, 80 feet under the water near the location that he had gone in.
Reinsch said that the situation was made particularly difficult by the fact that the officer had been alone in the boat, which meant that he had to both drive the vessel and keep an eye on the prisoner.
“It’s a difficult situation,” he said. “You can’t lock the doors, can’t place them in a seatbelt. It’s very difficult to even stand on a boat when it’s moving. So a totally different situation.”
The incident is currently being investigated. According to Reinsch, the officer who arrested Ellingson has been placed on administrative leave.
Ellingson’s grandmother, Gloria Ellingson, remembers him as a “perfect” young man.
“He was handsome, he was very, very smart,” Gloria Ellingson said. “He could joke with you. He could be on any level. There wasn’t anybody like him.”