Pierre attorney Dave Braun drowned early Monday while putting his newly bought boat in the Missouri River at the Fort Pierre boat ramp and dock, about a half mile north of the mouth of the Bad River.
Braun was 67 and regularly took a boat out to fish on the river, according to others who often are on the river.
Chief Deputy Greg Swanson of the Stanley County Sheriff’s Office in Fort Pierre said he was at the scene three minutes after the dispatch call came over at 7:49 a.m., Monday, July 27. The Pierre Fire Department’s Rescue and Dive Team arrived few minutes later, said Chief Ian Paul.
A diver found Braun at 8:24 a.m. and within about a minute, swam him over to the ramp where an ambulance crew from American Medical Response were waiting, Swanson said.
“They had staged on the scene. They put him on a board and started with CPR and got him loaded in the ambulance,” Swanson said.
The ambulance took him to Avera St. Mary’s Hospital where he later was pronounced dead. Braun had been in the water quite a while, but no one is certain exactly how long because no one saw him go in, Swanson said.
“It appears to be accidental,” said Swanson, who said he’s known Braun for 40 years. “He was in the process of putting his boat in the water to go fishing and evidently the boat got away from him and he went after it. He just did something he probably shouldn’t have done. Dave was kind of a stubborn guy.”
But he was a veteran fisherman who like to ply the waters around the two bridges between Pierre and Fort Pierre, said a woman who is often on the river.
“He had recently purchased that boat and that trailer,” Swanson said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was ready to help, Swanson said. “We asked them to shut down the dam a little bit. But we found him right away so they didn’t have to do it. But they were involved.”
Braun’s body was found in 10 to 15 feet of water about 10 yards or more from the dock, Swanson estimated.
It is isn’t known for certain how long Braun was underwater, but it could have been some time.
Swanson said he heard from someone who talked to Braun that morning when he arrived alone at the boat ramp about 6:30 a.m., DRG News reported.
Swanson told the Capital Journal when he got to the boat ramp just before 8 a.m., Braun’s empty boat was a good piece downstream, well south of the mouth of the Bad River, which itself is about a half mile from the Fort Pierre boat ramp and dock.
On Monday mornings, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers typically does not let a relatively large amount of water through Oahe Dam’s turbines, so the current is not “huge,” Swanson said.
“So to get that far down there” would take a while, he said of the empty, floating boat. “I’m guessing he was under water for quite a while.”
Swanson said Braun had used the boat ramp and dock on previous occasions.
The 911 call came in “from a person who happened to pull into the (parking) lot and thought he saw a boat floating with nobody in it, south of there,” Swanson told the Capital Journal. “He puts his binoculars on it and didn’t see anybody in the boat. So he looks over the hill and sees a pickup with a trailer still in the water and thought ‘that’s strange.’ So he gave dispatch a call.”
Paul said the Pierre Dive Rescue Team arrived on the scene perhaps shortly before 8 a.m. and the diver was in the water perhaps 10 minutes.
Swanson told the Capital Journal: “From the time we got the call to when they recovered him (from the water) was around 30 minutes.”
Also responding were the state Game Fish & Parks Department, the Stanley County Sheriff’s Office in Fort Pierre, AMR ambulance service and the state Highway Patrol, as well as the Army Corps standing by if needed to lower the water level, Swanson and Paul said.
The Pierre Dive and Rescue Team provides service to a wide area in and around Pierre and Fort Pierre and has volunteer members from several area agencies.
Braun was semi-retired, still taking a few cases representing clients in criminal and civil court in Pierre and Fort Pierre.
He had retired in 2013 after a career as an attorney for the state of South Dakota. As general counsel for the Department of Social Services, he worked under four governors. Braun grew up in the Black Hills.
His survivors include his wife, Darlene, longtime principal of St. Joseph Elementary School in Pierre.
Braun had a public life taking local government bodies to task since he retired from his state job and was proud to be called the “referral king,” he said. He said he was conservative and always watching the spending of the local city and county governments and quick to mount a petition drive to have any new city ordinance raising taxes or other spending referred to a vote by the general public. At times, his public threat of a petition drive was enough to affect the votes of city or county elected officials, the officials said at public meetings.
In 2018, Braun ran unsuccessfully for the Hughes County Commission. In 2016, he began an effort to run for the Pierre City Commission, but ended up ending his campaign because of family concerns, he said.
Braun was a mild-mannered man with a usually soft voice. However, he could drop the mild and soft when he got his ire up in what he saw as his duty to advocate for taxpayers and against more government spending.
“I’m the rabble rouser,” he told the Capital Journal in 2013. “I admit it. I irritate people in certain places.”
In June 2016, the Pierre City Commission voted to put their plan to build a $14.5 million recreation and events center on a city-wide ballot to let residents decide.
Braun had been telling the Commission he would refer the issue if they simply voted it through themselves.
At the Commission meeting that night, he said it again: “I urge you strongly” to put it on the ballot “so the public can have their say,” he said. “So it’s a true community decision and not decided by five Commissioners. . . I will tell you that even if you don’t vote to (let it) go to a public vote, it’s going. As you know, I have referred many issues of the county and the city. I don’t enjoy doing it. It’s a lot of work. . . But it’s going to a public vote on it.”
As Commission members discussed it that night, more than one cited Braun’s promise as a practical reason to vote themselves to put it on the ballot before he forced it on with a petition drive.
In November 2016, voters rejected the commission’s plan by a margin of 58% to 42%. A month later, Mayor Laurie Gill, the champion of the proposed recreation and events center, announced she would not run for re-election, largely because of the recreation and events center vote.