Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 27, 2013

Father, children hid from authorities during Sleeping Bear escapade


---- — GLEN ARBOR — An Orchard Lake man and his three minor children spent almost two days inside Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on a "camping" trip without food or water and deliberately hid from authorities who engaged in a massive search for them.

Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich said the children -- ages 14, 10 and 9 -- emerged hungry, thirsty and covered in mosquito bites, but were in otherwise good health when located Monday evening after authorities spent 12 hours sifting through dunes and swamps near Glen Haven.

Their father, Daniel Gerard Elliott, 50, was arrested on an Emmet County misdemeanor domestic violence warrant and awaits arraignment in 90th District Court. Borkovich said the domestic violence incident Sunday led Elliott to embark on a hastily planned camping trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes to keep the children away from their mother.

"They went out in the woods and were out all night. Basically they were without food or water," Borkovich said. "The kids thought of it as a camping excursion. As did the father, believe it or not."

The situation started as Elliott, his wife and their children visited friends and family in the Petoskey area. Emmet County Sheriff Pete Wallin said deputies were dispatched Sunday about 10:30 a.m. to U.S. 131 on a domestic violence incident report after Elliott forced his wife out of the family vehicle.

"There was a physical confrontation between Mr. and Mrs. Elliott and she was left at the side of the road," Wallin said. "Mr. Elliott continued south and eventually ended up in Leelanau County."

The woman filed a missing persons report in Emmet County and expressed concern for her husband's mental state. A park ranger found the family's abandoned BMW on Monday about 7:20 a.m. near the Maritime Museum in Glen Haven and ran a license plate check that showed Elliott and the children were missing.

Borkovich said the search began right then and there in the pouring rain.

The search expanded throughout the day as sheriff's deputies and park rangers prowled the area north of Dune Valley Road and west of M-209. At one point, a local man running on the Heritage Trail Park spotted the Elliott family.

Borkovich said the four deliberately hid from law enforcement when a circling U.S. Coast Guard helicopter made it clear authorities were looking for them. He said Elliott and the children were "dodging around" between cedar swamps as the search continued, but mostly stayed still and hidden in the thick underbrush.

"They just wanted to be on their camping trip, so to speak," Borkovich said. "(Elliott) knew the assault charge was against him, (but) he just didn't want the kids around the wife."

Officials eventually closed several park trails and attractions, including the popular Dune Climb, to aid the search. A ground searched began at 7 p.m. with local volunteer firefighters, sheriff's deputies, state police troopers, the National Lakeshore Search and Rescue Team and FBI agents.

Borkovich said a Leelanau County sheriff's deputy spotted the family in an area just south of Dune Valley Road. He said the family did not attempt to escape and willingly approached the deputy.

The children received water and cheeseburgers from Glen Lake firefighters and were reunited with their mother that evening.

Elliot was arrested and transported to Emmet County jail. Wellin said Elliott would be arraigned today on the charge, but no additional charges would be sought "at this time."

Michigan Secretary of State records show Elliott only recently regained his driver's license after it was revoked 20 years ago for three alcohol-related driving convictions. He has a restricted license that limits him to vehicles with an ignition interlock device and prohibits driving outside 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Borkovich said he didn't know whether Elliott's trip violated the conditions of the restricted license. He said the case would be forward to the Leelanau County prosecutor's office.

Doug Donaldson, Leelanau County assistant prosecuting attorney, said he couldn't comment on additional charges until the office receives the sheriff's report.