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Coroner: Amityville schools official died of accidental drowning

The coroner for upstate Essex County has listed

The coroner for upstate Essex County has listed the cause of death for Michael J. Butler III, the Amityville schools official who lost control of his paddleboard while on vacation, as accidental drowning. Credit: Courtesy Butler family

The death of a longtime school administrator from Patchogue while paddleboarding in Lake George was ruled an accidental drowning, the Essex County coroner said Sunday.

Michael J. Butler III, 61, of Patchogue was on a family vacation Friday night when he lost control of his paddleboard. A nighttime rescue search was convened, and his body was discovered Saturday morning in 8 feet of water, according to the Ticonderoga Police Department.

Frank Whitelaw, the Essex County coroner, said Sunday that Butler was wearing a personal flotation belt with a rip cord, but not a life vest.

“He never pulled that,” Whitelaw said of the rip cord. He said his office had ruled out a cardiac event and Butler had no head trauma. Investigators have also ruled out the possibility that Butler struck his head on the paddleboard as he lost control of it.

“What we did get through the autopsy was he did drown,” Whitelaw said. “The question is why did he drown, and I don’t know if we’re going to be able to answer that question.”

More studies are planned, including a microscopic examination of the tissues. A toxicology report was negative for drugs and alcohol.

Butler had worked as facilities director in the Amityville School District since 2015, and before that served with the Suffolk County Parks Department, and the Sachem, Elwood and Patchogue-Medford school districts.

Amityville Superintendent Mary Kelly on Saturday offered condolences in a statement posted on the district’s website.

Michael’s brother Dave Butler, 42, of Fayetteville, North Carolina, said Sunday: “Mike was an incredible brother, father, husband and community servant. We’re all having a tough time dealing with this loss. We look forward to celebrating his life over the next several days together as a family and community.”

A wake is planned Wednesday at the Ruland Funeral Home in Patchogue, from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m.

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