Officials release cause of death for O’Fallon contractor who died in Kentucky Lake

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Kentucky officials have released the cause of death for a prominent metro-east contractor who was found dead in Kentucky Lake last summer.

Charles “Chuck” Poettker, 69, of O’Fallon, died of an accidental drowning with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease and ethanol intoxication as contributing conditions, according to a document provided by an attorney for the Trigg County coroner’s office.

Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease refers to hardening or narrowing of the arteries. Ethanol intoxication refers to the consumption of beer, wine or other alcoholic beverages.

The document provided to the BND is called a “formulation of death page,” said Farris Marcum, president of the Kentucky Coroners Association. He’s not involved in the Poettker case but explained that the document is part of the medical examiner’s autopsy report, designed to help the coroner determine cause of death.

“Dr. Kiefer is telling Mr. Phillips, ‘This is how I would sign out the death certificate,’” Marcum said, referring to Dr. Christopher Kiefer, who works for the Western Kentucky Regional Medical Examiners Office; and Trigg County Assistant Coroner Matthew Phillips.

Phillips declined to provide a death certificate or comment on the Poettker case. The formulation of death page was provided to the BND by Stacey Blankenship, attorney for the coroner’s office.

“The family motioned for a restraining order to prohibit the coroner’s office from releasing any information (on Poettker’s death), and the judge granted the motion,” Blankenship said. “So we have an order that does not allow the coroner to produce any records.”

Poettker was founder and CEO of Poettker Construction Co., based in Breese, one of the largest construction companies in the metro-east.

Poettker was boating with his wife, Linda, on July 17, 2021, when he jumped into the water for a swim, authorities reported at the time. His body was found after divers searched more than two hours.

Trigg County Circuit Judge C.A. Woodall III granted the temporary restraining order against the coroner’s office on Dec. 3, 2021, in response to a petition by Poettker’s four grown children, Kimberly Luitjohan, Ryan Poettker, Keith Poettker and Kevin Poettker.

The family didn’t know at that time what records were in the coroner’s possession, according to the order, but they had reason to believe he might release some that were sensitive, confidential and exempt from disclosure requirements in the Kentucky Open Records Act.

“We basically wanted to protect any personal information regarding Dad’s health records, photographs that were taken and all that stuff,” Keith Poettker said. “And under Kentucky law, the only way we could do that was by filing for a temporary restraining order.”

The order will give the family time to look over the records and make sure no private or protected information gets released, said their attorney David Riley, of Paducah, Kentucky.

Death records can include coroners’ reports with notes from scene investigations, autopsy reports from medical examiners and toxicology test results.

Coroners generally don’t release such information to the news media or general public, Marcum said, but they have discretion to determine if it’s appropriate to turn it over to law enforcement, life insurance companies or family members and their attorneys.

Marcum, who has served as Lincoln County, Kentucky, coroner for nearly 20 years, said it’s unusual for a family to file a restraining order against a coroner. But the Poettkers apparently persuaded Judge Woodall to take action.

“The disclosure of the nature, extent, manner, and pain of their father’s death is something that any family should work to protect and should not have to relive through disclosure to a gawking and sensation-driven public,” the judge wrote in the order.

The family received Charles Poettker’s death certificate in late December or early January, according to Keith Poettker. They had been waiting more than five months due to a backlog in cases being handled by the Kentucky Office of the Medical Examiner.

Now that a death certificate has been issued, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources can complete its report on Charles Poettker’s death, said Sgt. Daniel Richardson, lead investigator. He estimates that it will be ready in about a week.

Last summer, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources reported that:

  • Charles and Linda Poettker were regulars on Kentucky Lake with their 47-foot boat, a Sea Ray Sedan Bridge.

  • They were out boating on Saturday, July 17, 2021.

  • They dropped anchor about 3 p.m. in the Sugar Bay area of Trigg County.

  • Charles Poettker jumped off the rear swim platform into the water and disappeared.

  • Officials launched a search after a friend called 911.

  • Divers searched for more than two hours before finding Poettker’s body.

A family spokeswoman described Poettker as a capable swimmer. Keith Poettker has pondered the possibility that they may never know for sure if a drowning caused a heart attack or a heart attack caused a drowning.

Charles Poettker’s autopsy was performed July 18, 2021, at the Western Kentucky Regional Medical Examiners Office in Madisonville.

“In Kentucky, all drownings are required to be autopsied,” Marcum said.

Poettker Construction Co. has been operating in Breese for 42 years. It has about 200 employees and a second location in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Keith Poettker is based.

Poettker replaced his father as CEO under a succession plan that the company developed in 2016. Brother Ryan is now president. Management also includes sister Kimberly Luitjohan, executive vice president and chief financial officer, and brother Kevin, director of business development.

Keith Poettker said it was difficult to lose a father, friend, business partner and mentor so suddenly.

“He was a giant, and he left a lasting legacy,” Poettker said. “We certainly appreciate all the thoughts and prayers from the community. We’ve had so many people reach out to us. We’re very thankful, very appreciative.”

Poettker Construction executives stand in front of their new Breese headquarters in 2019. They are, left to right, Tom Albers, Jon Carroll, Keith Poettker, Charles Poettker, Kim Luitjohan, Ryan Poettker and Kevin Poettker.
Poettker Construction executives stand in front of their new Breese headquarters in 2019. They are, left to right, Tom Albers, Jon Carroll, Keith Poettker, Charles Poettker, Kim Luitjohan, Ryan Poettker and Kevin Poettker.