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Community theater is not sufficient community service in death of Brandon Ellingson

This photo by Myles Goertz shows Brandon Ellingson in the back of Trooper Anthony Piercy’s boat on May 31, 2014.
This photo by Myles Goertz shows Brandon Ellingson in the back of Trooper Anthony Piercy’s boat on May 31, 2014. Photo courtesy of Myles Goertz

Dabbling in community theater is certainly a nice hobby.

Building sets, acting in a minor role and helping to tear down the production after the last performance sound like a fine project for a teenager earning a merit badge in scouting, or for a retiree with a bit of time on his hands.

It should not, under any circumstances, be sufficient to fulfill 50 hours of court-ordered community service in a case where a young man drowned at the Lake of the Ozarks under preventable circumstances.

Unfortunately, it was OK’d in Missouri.

Former highway trooper Anthony Piercy received credit for participating in the Versailles Royal Theatre’s “Moses and the Burning Within” to satisfy the terms of his punishment in the death of Brandon Ellingson, a 20-year-old Iowan who drowned in May of 2014.

The division of probation and parole services needs to step in and review the decision of a probation supervisor in Camdenton who allowed something that most people do for fun to qualify as punitive community service.

Ellingson had been boating at the lake. And, as people do, he was drinking. No excuses for that. Boating and drinking are as dangerous as driving while drinking.

Ellingson probably deserved to be taken into custody for suspicion of intoxication by Piercy, who was working a solo shift for the Water Patrol.

But the arrest went horribly wrong. Ellingson’s hands were handcuffed behind his back and, according to witnesses, Piercy placed an already-buckled life vest over him. As the boat took off at up to 46 mph, Ellingson fell overboard and the vest came off. He drowned.

Piercy, who had received little training for Water Patrol duties, avoided the tougher penalties for involuntary manslaughter by pleading guilty to a misdemeanor boating violation.

His popularity in the small lake community was one reason for allowing that plea, as it would have been difficult to find an impartial jury. He shouldn’t receive another pass from that same community when it comes to completing his court-ordered service.

The former trooper was given a sentence of 50 hours of community service and 10 days in jail, which he served over a series of weekends. Piercy was fired by the Missouri Highway Patrol for his actions that day, a decision he is fighting through a lawsuit.

Piercy had participated in community theater previously. He shouldn’t be permitted to participate in a favored activity to satisfy the court. “Adding insult to injury” comes to mind.

At the hearing when he was given the community service sentence, a humbled Piercy apologized to Ellingson’s family.

“I know that nothing that I will say will ease the pain that they are feeling,” he said. “And I will never forget that I am the cause of that pain.”

But it seems that spoken pledge slipped his mind as he made his way to the theater.