MCHENRY, N.D. – After a man allegedly hit and killed a North Dakota teenager with his car for being a “Republican extremist,” investigators now say there is no evidence showing the teenager was an extremist or political at all.
In the early morning hours of Sept. 18, 18-year-old Cayler Ellingson was hanging out in his hometown of McHenry, North Dakota after a “street dance” had wrapped up. Then tragedy struck.
Ellingson reportedly called his mother to come rescue him because he said 41-year-old Shannon Brandt was chasing him.
Around 2:30 a.m., Brandt called 911 and told the dispatcher he had hit the teenager with his vehicle. Brandt said Ellingson was part of a Republican extremist group and was “coming to get him” after the two got into a political argument, according to multiple reports.
However, authorities now say there is no evidence to support that Ellingson and Brandt got into a political argument, and moreover, nothing to support Brandt’s claim that the teenager was a Republican extremist.
Investigators told ABC News they have conducted dozens of interviews with witnesses, none of whom support the idea there was a political argument before Brandt struck Ellingson with his car and killed him. A family friend also told the news outlet “there was absolutely nothing political in [Ellingson] that I’ve ever seen.”
“I can’t get into details about what the witnesses are describing to us. But what I can tell you is that this is not political in nature at all,” North Dakota Highway Patrol Capt. Bryan Niewind told news outlets Friday. “There is no evidence to support Brandt’s claim on the 911 call that Mr. Ellingson was a Republican extremist. There is no evidence to support that all through our continued investigation.”
There is also no evidence at this point to support Brandt’s claim that Ellingson was calling others to hurt Brandt, Niewind says. Brandt has been charged with criminal vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of a fatal crash, but authorities say those charges could change as the investigation proceeds. He is currently in custody with a $50,000 bail.
Justin McDonald, owner of Buck-It’s Bar & Grill in New Rockford, North Dakota, told ABC he knows the Ellingson family well and that the teenager enjoyed autocross racing, hunting and spending time at the family cabin when he wasn’t studying to be an ultrasound technician.
“This is absurd, because Cayler lives in a town with less than 40 people in it,” McDonald said. “There’s no Republican, whatever, things going on here. This is a community where our number one goal usually for the month is: Who’s down and out, now, let’s help them out.”
McHenry is about 150 miles northeast of Bismarck and has a population of 28, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.
Authorities say Brandt admitted to being under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash, and a breath test administered by officers confirmed his blood alcohol level was above the legal limit to drive
With a prior DUI conviction, Brandt could face a minimum of 10 years in prison if convicted of the vehicular homicide charge.