JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri - A group of Missouri lawmakers will meet Wednesday at 10 a.m. to determine if a 2011 merger between the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the State’s Water Patrol resulted in a lack of experience and safety concerns on the Lake of the Ozarks.
The oversight hearing comes on the heels of the drowning of Brandon Ellingson, 20, of Clive. Ellingson drowned while hand-cuffed and under arrest for suspicion of boating while intoxicated on May 31, 2014. We’ve since learned Trooper Anthony Piercy, the arresting officer, placed the wrong life-jacket on Ellingson and was driving his patrol boat in excess of 40-miles-per-hour at the time of the incident.
Representative Diane Franklin (R) will chair the hearing Wednesday. She said prior to the merger, there was up to 50-years of experience on the Lake of the Ozarks on any given holiday. She also said the Water Patrol was once considered among the best in the country, but believes it has declined in recent years.
“So, here we are today and I think we have fell from that status of being one of the nation’s best and not many years have transpired to make that happen,” said Franklin.
The merger was supposed to save the state $3 million. Franklin said the committee will be able to answer whether those savings were realized as it moves through the hearing, three of which are scheduled. “Our goal is at the end of this is to be able to recommend to the Highway Patrol and then go on and do legislation as to what the highway patrol should look like.”
Several members of the Missouri State Patrol and former members of the Water Patrol are expected to testify at today’s hearing. Brandon Ellingson’s father, Craig and his attorney are also expected to attend.