Missouri authorities are facing questions over how a 20-year-old college student who was wearing a life jacket drowned while in their custody.
Brandon Ellingson, a former high school sports standout, had been partying with friends in Lake of the Ozarks when the boat he was steering was pulled over by Missouri Water Patrol on Saturday afternoon.
After being arrested on suspicion of boating while intoxicated, Ellingson was handcuffed and moved to the patrol boat. The officer planned to take Ellingson to a station to administer a Breathalyzer test, according to the state police.
But Ellingson either fell or jumped off the patrol boat. His body was recovered Sunday morning by a dive team.
The captain of another boat described to the Des Moines Register a brief three-to-four-minute ordeal in which he and the officer tried to rescue Ellingson. But Ellingson's life vest came off somehow, he fell under the water and never emerged, according to Jim Bascue.
"I saw the life jacket and person separate in the water," Bascue told the newspaper.
Missouri State Police are investigating whether the life vest was properly buckled. The Register also reported that patrol boats are not equipped with seat belts to tie down suspects, or an extra officer to watch over them.
Ellingson had been studying business at Arizona State University. Friends from both Tempe, Ariz., and his hometown of Clive, Iowa, have praised him on Facebook and Twitter. He was known for his skills on the hockey rink, football field and swimming pool.
"This is such a tragedy what happened, and I hope his family get justice and mend their broken hearts," one friend wrote on his Facebook profile.
Ellingson's grandmother has told reporters that the family is considering a lawsuit.
Missouri State Police have recorded at least 12 boating-related deaths in 2013, including three cases of someone going overboard on a personal watercraft. It was not immediately known whether anyone had ever died while on custody in a state police boat before.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times