College friends get jail time for covering up boating death of Newport Beach teen

When Jack Elliott boarded a 22-foot boat for a day of drinking and swimming with college friends on a Texas lake, no one knew how badly it would end.

Elliott, a 19-year-old Texas Christian University freshman from Newport Beach, was killed in October 2019 after a girl he was kissing gave him a “playful little shove” that sent him overboard and into the boat’s propeller.

For background, see: Mystery over Texas boating death of OC teen finally unravels years later

Two of his friends from TCU are now heading to jail — not for Elliott’s death, but for trying to hide the details from police, details that took years to fully unravel. Another friend is going to jail for providing some of the alcohol for the trip.

On Thursday, May 11, Travis County Presiding Judge Elisabeth A. Earle sentenced Delaney Brennan of Huntington Beach, Elle Weber of Hermosa Beach and Carson Neel of Cedar Park, Texas, to five days each in a Texas lockup as the ill-fated boating trip continued to take its toll.

Brennan and Weber pleaded no contest to misdemeanor making false statements to a police officer. Neel pleaded no contest to misdemeanor providing alcohol to a minor. Besides jail time, they each received two years probation and 80 hours of community service. They could have been sentenced to up to 30 days in county jail.

The sentencings came just days before the defendants were to receive their diplomas from TCU.

In court, Elliott’s father, Brett, called out those who left his son for dead in the lake after searching only a few minutes and then covered up their roles in the tragedy.

“You did the wrong things over and over, and you lied over and over and your parents supported the lies. Now, here in this courthouse, is where you end up — a convict going to jail,” Brett Elliott said. “And yet the sad part is you still have zero character and zero integrity.”

He talked about how after his son’s death, Brennan, Weber and Neel took part in candlelight vigils, purporting to grieve while allegedly attempting to manipulate the legal system.

“All of you stood together arm in arm and took pictures and smiled … knowing you had killed Jack. You stood up there lying and manipulating everyone basking in the sympathy. Then, the truth was exposed,” Brett Elliott said.

Jack Elliott’s younger sister, Ava, told the defendants that she wanted them to graduate from college knowing the pain they had caused.

“I hope that the guilt catches up with each and every one of you and takes a little bit of joy out of every happy moment, similar to what grief has done to me and my parents,” Ava Elliott said in her victim’s statement.

“Considering that Jack is missing out on nearly 80 years of his life, the thought of each of you spending 15 to 30 days in prison sounds like the better end of the deal.”

Attorneys for the three defendants did not return telephone messages seeking comment. Misdemeanor charges are still pending for a fourth defendant, Anthony Salazar, who is accused of giving false information to police officers.

Jack Elliott was barely seven weeks into his first year of college on Oct. 14, 2019, when he and some friends ventured to Lake Travis, outside Austin, where Neel’s father, Billy, ran a private marina and owned an Axis A22 wakeboarding boat, according to legal records.

The 12 friends, then teenagers, climbed onto the boat with snacks, vodka, beer and cans of White Claw hard seltzer, and headed toward the Devil’s Cove party site, music blaring from the vessel’s speakers.

They danced on the slippery deck of a moving boat and swam in the waters of the man-made lake. They took turns wakeboarding. And they drank.

As nightfall descended, Elliott and Brennan were at the front of the boat, flirting and kissing, when she gave him what one witness called a “playful little shove” and he fell into the water. That was the last any of the friends saw of Elliott. Weber was at the wheel of the boat.

They spent no more than five minutes looking for Elliott. Neel jumped into the water and checked the propeller. The others shined the lights from their cellphones onto the dark lake and called his name. Nothing. So they convinced themselves there was little more they could do and headed back to shore.

According to records from a lawsuit filed by Elliott’s parents, the group then set a course that steered them toward jail.

Weber called “911,” but gave her name as “Elle Macpherson,” purportedly unaware that was the name of a supermodel and actress.

On the way back, they dumped the remaining alcohol overboard. And since boat drivers Neel and Weber had been drinking — Neel had about five beers and Weber two White Claws and four swigs of vodka — another member of the group, Anthony Salazar, was enlisted to say he had been driving the boat. Salazar felt sick that day and didn’t imbibe. Out of what appeared to be a sense of duty to his friends, he allegedly went along with the ruse.

And that’s the story they allegedly gave to Travis County sheriff’s investigators. They also allegedly told police that Elliott had done a back flip off the boat and later that he fell while vomiting off the side.

The lies persisted even after part of the group met two days later at a Fort Worth hotel and telephoned Brett and Amy Elliott. The teens, now in their early 20s, promised to give the grieving couple honest answers.

But they weren’t honest. They said they didn’t know how Elliott fell off the boat and posited that maybe he stood up to straighten his hair and just fell.

Police got part of the story out of the teens, but the rest didn’t come until Elliott’s parents sued them and forced them to testify under oath. Although they invoked their right not to incriminate themselves, the truth came out.

In her statement to the court on Thursday, Elliott’s mother chided Brennan, Weber and Neel for repeatedly attempting to hide the truth, making her grief even harder to endure.

“Time and time again, each and every one of you and your parents chose yourselves over the truth and what was right,” Amy Elliott told them.

She continued, “Our 19-year-old son, who had such a promising future ahead of him, but you — his ‘friends’ as you call yourselves — failed him and failed us.

“Some of you have commented that you know Jack is watching over you. How do you think Jack feels about what you all did, or, more importantly, what you did not do? … The pain of the loss does not soften with time, it just becomes more familiar.”

In a deposition for the parents’ lawsuits, Brennan said she was so distraught that she had Elliott’s initials tattooed to her wrist.

“I did that because I wanted to always have something to remember him by,” she said in her sworn testimony. “When I looked down I wanted to remember how much he loved life and it kind of gave me a reminder to always live my life to the fullest and to do everything in life to basically live up to what he would have done.”

In her social media and to friends, Delaney professed her misery.

“I just feel like guilty … and I don’t think I have ever been this sad.”

“I was the last person to touch him,” she said in a message to a friend.

The lawsuit was settled privately and confidentially.

In the Texas courtroom on Thursday, Brett Elliott said his son — his forever young son — sometimes visits in his dreams.

“He’s still a little boy … with shaggy hair … sometimes laughing or sometimes crying … but always our sweet, beautiful Jack,” Brett Elliott told the court. “On Feb 28th of this year I had a dream and wrote it down. Jack said to me, ‘I know you’re sad, Dad. I am, too.’ “

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