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Archive for September, 2014

We all know that speed kills on the roads, but a newly released video from the Missouri Highway Patrol clearly shows that speed, combined with recklessness by a highway patrol officer on water duty at the Lake of the Ozarks, killed 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson.

Early this morning, The Kansas City Star posted a two-minute, three-second video that attempts to recreate the wild, fatal, May 31 boat ride that Trooper Anthony Piercy gave Ellingson minutes after placing Ellingson under arrest for boating while intoxicated.

To me, this video is absolutely terrifying, but I urge you to watch it. A trooper who is playing the role of Ellingson directed the re-creation, telling the driver how fast to go and where to drive the boat. The video shows that, because of the height and shallowness of the boat seat, the trooper has to half sit and half stand to the right of the driver, who has a similar, high-rise, cutout-type seat.

During the recreated ride, the driver hits speeds of more than 40 miles an hour — as Piercy did — and the trooper who is playing the role of Ellingson holds on tightly throughout the high-speed part of the ride. With his right hand, the trooper grasps a vertical metal post that supports the top of the boat. With his left hand, he holds onto a small grab bar affixed to the back of the seat.

And even though he is anchored with his right and left hands — front and back — the trooper bounces and rocks as the boat races through the water, especially when it hits rough water.

It’s unsettling enough to watch this with the trooper holding on as he did. But imagine what it would be like to be in that trooper’s position with your hands tied behind your back! That’s the way it was the day that Ellingson died in Piercy’s custody: Piercy had cuffed his hands behind his back.

As a result, Ellingson would not have been able to grab the post that the trooper held onto. Moreover, it would have been very difficult, or even impossible, for Ellingson to grasp the short grab bar behind his seat. Even if he could have reached it, he probably would have had to stand up because, like I said, the bar is behind the passenger seat.

And, again, Ellingson did not have the benefit of an anchored chair or even a low bench, which would have put him lower in the boat and enabled him to brace himself with his legs.

Tellingly, in the video, the trooper playing the role of Ellingson can be heard noting that while he is seated, his feet are dangling above the floor of the boat. It seems to me that to have any leverage whatsoever, Ellingson would have had to stand up and lean back against the seat. In any event, his position would have been precarious.

With the benefit of the video, I’m convinced, more than ever, that Piercy, while going way too fast, hit a big wave, bouncing Ellingson right out of the boat.

The trooper told one investigator that he didn’t see what happened to Ellingson — that he turned and saw Ellingson’s feet going into the water. The reason Piercy didn’t see what happened, in my opinion, is that he had his hands full trying to maintain control of the boat in rocky waters. He managed to control the boat, but he lost his passenger…and his passenger lost his life.

**

At a coroner’s inquest last week — an inquest carefully orchestrated by the county coroner and perhaps other officials — the question of how fast Piercy was going did not come up. Never was mentioned. Piercy testified at length, but he was not asked, and did not offer, how fast he was going. As far as the six-member jury was concerned, he could have been going 15 to 20 miles an hour — which is about how fast he should have been going with a handcuffed, inebriated passenger who was at his mercy.

The Star has reported that records show Piercy was going 39.1 to 43.7 mph just before Ellingson went overboard. Ridiculous. Moronic.

Of course, driving too fast wasn’t Piercy’s only mistake; he also had put the wrong type of life jacket on Ellingson and put it on over his head, already buckled, when it should have gone through his arms…Predictably. the jacket came off shortly after Ellingson went into the water.

Remember, too, this is an officer whose experience was, for the most part, on the roads. He was working his second season on the lake. Plus, he was pissed off, apparently because, before he took off, one of Ellingson’s buddies jumped in the water and tossed onto the trooper’s boat a card bearing the rights of a suspect being placed under arrest.

So, what you had on May 31 was a trooper with a corn cob up his ass, driving way too fast, and seemingly not the least bit concerned about the well-being of his passenger.

**

After less than eight minutes of deliberation, a jury of Ozarks residents concluded that Ellingson’s death was accidental. A special prosecutor concurred and declined to file charges. The prosecutor, Amanda Grellner, said that in her opinion Piercy was negligent but not criminally reckless. The Star’s Barbara Shelly called the whole thing a whitewash.

In light of the video, I think this case borders on involuntary manslaughter. I think Piercy was, indeed, criminally reckless. I don’t know if an involuntary manslaughter charge would stick, but it is unequivocal that Anthony Piercy’s stupidity on several fronts caused Brandon Ellingson’s death.

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Nixon

There’s one other infuriating aspect to this case. Gov. Jay Nixon hasn’t had one word to say about it publicly. As far as I know, he hasn’t expressed his condolences to Brandon’s parents, Craig and Sherry Ellingson, who live in the West Des Moines area. Nixon hasn’t even said whether he will reconsider the decision a few years ago to merge the Missouri Water Patrol and the Highway Patrol.

Our governor has secreted himself in his office, just like he tried to do with the Ferguson blow-up, and has offered nothing to the public or the Ellingson family.

That is disgraceful, and, as a Missourian, I am embarrassed.

As many of you know, I am an experienced political activist. I promise you this: If Jay Nixon runs for another elective post, I will be working against him and contributing to whichever opponent I decide on.

Jay Nixon must go.

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In the era we’re living in, no institution, no particular business and no pastime seems securely anchored.

If four of a dozen Atlantic City casinos close, it means casino gambling is in trouble.

If stalwart newspapers like The Kansas City Star, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and The New York Times shed hundreds of employees in the space of several years and their advertising revenue plummets, the newspaper business is a shell of its former self.

And if the National Football League turns away in the face of players abusing their wives and girlfriends — and if scores of former players are walking around with badly damaged brains — even pro football could find itself on the ropes.

Now, I don’t care about casino gambling, so that pending crisis doesn’t bother me a bit. And having had a front-seat view of the newspaper business’s ebbing fortunes, I’m pretty much inured to that business’s predicament. (God help The New York Times, though, because I’ve got a significant stock-market bet on its ability to figure out how to succeed in the Internet Era.)

But this National Football League mess…whoa, that is an eye-opener.

As I was watching the Royals’ game tonight (“Big Game” James came through again!), I saw the NFL headlines scrolling along the bottom of the screen.

In addition to the newly released video of former Ravens player Ray Rice sucker punching and knocking out his then-girlfriend in a hotel elevator, the “screen crawler” carried more bad news: San Diego Chargers’ center Nick Hardwick is out for the year with a neck injury, and John Abraham, a “sack” artist for the Arizona Cardinals, is out for the season — and maybe forever — because, at 36 years of age, he is suffering from “severe memory loss.”

Thirty-six and his memory is shot!!! Holy shit, I wasn’t even married at 36…

**

Personally, I am going to try to not watch one minute of any Chiefs’ game this season. I’m off to a good start because last weekend I was in Louisville, Ky., for my 50th high school reunion and wasn’t the least bit tempted to even try to find out the score of the Chiefs’ game. (What? You say they lost and their best defensive player is out for the year with an ACL tear? I can hardly believe it.)

Over the years, I’ve gradually lost interest in the Chiefs, not just because of their string of bad years but also because the game-day atmosphere at Arrowhead — set by ill-mannered drunks, for the most part — has degenerated so badly.

I used to go to one game a year, but last year, for the first time, I didn’t go to any. And now, with the head injuries and the league’s mishandling of the Rice case, I’m ready to give the NFL the boot. I don’t know exactly what I’ll do on all those upcoming, cold November and December Sundays, but I guess I’ll start by going to even more women’s college basketball games than I do now.

You can put me in the same corner as Steve Almond, a Massachusetts-based writer who, in August, wrote an article titled “Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto.” In the article, Almond argues that the sport “legitimizes and even fosters within us a tolerance for violence, greed, racism, and homophobia.”

“If you really look at football, it’s very troubling on a whole bunch of levels,” he said. “I believe we’re at a moral crossroads, but change is gradual.”

A Boston Globe story about Almond’s boycott and the growing concerns about pro football quoted a fan named Irving Kurki, who said he’d come to the realization that “it’s wrong to be entertained by a process whereby people are injured and their lifespans are shortened.”

Kurki told The Globe that so far he had not suffered from withdrawal. “I was a smoker once, too, and I gave that up,” he said.

Well, I gave up cigars more than a year ago. Plus, being a former Catholic, I didn’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent for many years.

So, I’m steeled and braced. Put me on the bench, coach, I’m ready to sit out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I could be wrong but I have very low expectations for the coroner’s inquest that will take place tomorrow, Thursday, in Versailles, MO, regarding the drowning death of Brandon Ellingson.

In all my years in journalism, I never witnessed a coroner’s inquest, but, nevertheless,  and I can’t imagine any startling revelations or determinations coming out of the one tomorrow.

As The Star’s Laura Bauer said in her back-to-back, front-page Sunday stories, six jurors will hear testimony, and they will be asked to determine the manner in which Ellingson died.

The Morgan County prosecutor, Dustin G. Dunklee, will take the jury’s determination under advisement and decide whether charges should be filed.

M.B. Jones, Morgan County coroner, told Bauer that the inquest would serve as an independent review of the case. Among the issues likely to be addressed, he said, were the type of life vest that Highway Patrol Officer Anthony Piercy used and how he put it on Ellingson. (He used the wrong kind and put it on incorrectly.)

Jones said jurors will likely hear more about the Highway Patrol’s water-safety protocols and procedures.

There are three reasons I’m not optimistic about the jury getting to the bottom of the case.

dunklee2

Dustin Dunklee

First, this is strictly a local affair where most of the players know one another. The jurors, who have already been chosen, may well know one another. This is a county of about 20,000 residents, so nothing like Jackson County’s 674,000. The prosecutor, Dunklee, is a local lawyer who was elected in 2010. He’s probably in his upper 30s and most likely has never been involved in a case of this magnitude. Moreover, Trooper Piercy has a higher-than-average profile locally, having been on the school board of the Morgan County R-II district since 2012.

Second, Jones, the coroner, hinted at a foregone conclusion in a quote he gave to Bauer:

“That boy shouldn’t have died. We can’t bring him back, but maybe we can make changes.”

I don’t know about you but it sounds to me like Jones thinks has already concluded it was an accident and that if Piercy was guilty of negligence, it didn’t rise to the criminal level.

Third, it appears that there were no witnesses to contradict Piercy’s assertion that Ellingson stood up, moved toward the side of the patrol boat and either fell or jumped into the water, as Piercy zipped along at who-knows-how-many-miles-per-hour over choppy waters.

(Side note here: I don’t know if Piercy is going to testify — Jones has said he intends to call four witnesses — but if he doesn’t, you can write the inquest off as a total whitewash.)

At least one of Ellingson’s parents, father Craig, told Bauer he planned to attend the inquest.

“These jurors, they need to put themselves in my place,” he told Bauer. “Would they want their son put in a boat like that, be treated like that?”

I think these jurors, while they might want to put themselves in Craig Ellingson’s place, will be more inclined to protect their own. This is the Ozarks; these folks stick together.

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