House committee hearings into the merger of two state patrols have already helped spur positive changes, a Missouri Highway Patrol official testified Wednesday.
Capt. Matt Walz, a veteran of the Missouri Water Patrol before it was merged into the Highway Patrol in 2011, also told legislators that patrol commanders should lean on experienced water patrol managers for knowledge and guidance as they move forward.
“I believe if the Highway Patrol starts to take that same pride in the water that they take in the road duties, there won’t be any more committee meetings in the future about the merger,” said Walz, who was with the Water Patrol for 21 years before the merger. He was in plainclothes and said he was there on his own and not speaking for the Highway Patrol.
The committee, meeting for the third time, also heard from two Highway Patrol officials who talked about financial matters of the merger.
Walz mentioned training as an area where the patrol is starting to make changes. He did not go into detail.
The committee came about after the May 31 drowning death of Brandon Ellingson.
The 20-year-old college student from Clive, Iowa, was hanging out with friends when Anthony Piercy — an 18-year highway trooper who received marine operations training in March 2013 — arrested Ellingson on suspicion of boating while intoxicated. As Piercy took Ellingson to a zone office, and moments before the handcuffed man fell into the water, Piercy’s boat hit speeds between 39.1 and 43.7 mph.
Piercy eventually jumped in to try to save Ellingson, and though he has said he had hold of him at one point, the college student soon slipped to the bottom of the lake. Divers recovered Ellingson’s body the next day.
During the committee hearings, legislators have identified a need for more training dedicated to road officers who are designated to help on the water. Questions also have focused on money and why troop commanders overseeing patrols on the state waterways have not received marine operations training.
Residents around the Lake of the Ozarks have told the committee that they have seen fewer troopers and more havoc on the lake since the two patrols joined.
The committee will next meet Nov. 19 in Hollister, south of Branson, where it expects to hear from residents of southwest Missouri.