Off-duty deputies, corrections officer save umpire's life at softball game

Umpire Jeff Brunner fell to the ground during the first inning of the game

By Brendan Quealy
The Record-Eagle

BENZONIA, Mich. — The quick actions of three off-duty law enforcement officials likely saved the life of a man who collapsed during a softball game Wednesday.

Jeff Brunner, who was serving as the home plate umpire, fell to the ground during the first inning of the first game of a doubleheader between Kingsley and host Benzie Central after routinely tossing the ball back to the pitcher.

Jason Roelofs and Jason Hamilton, who are both deputies with the Grand Traverse County sheriff's department, and Matt Lyon, who is a sergeant with the Michigan Department of Corrections at the Oaks Correctional Facility in Manistee, rushed to Brunner's side and administered CPR and even had to use a portable defibrillator to shock Brunner and eventually resuscitate the 60-year-old. Roelofs and Lyon are both coaches on the Kingsley softball team, and Hamilton is the father of two Kingsley softball players.

"It happened in front of our eyes, and luckily we've received great training throughout our career and were able to take control of the situation," Roelofs said, speaking to the Record-Eagle with Hamilton. "Us and Matt Lyon and everybody else, it was a group effort. It was all of us."

Roelofs, who was coaching first base, didn't see Brunner collapse, but he did hear the thud of him falling on the ground. Hamilton witnessed Brunner fall flat on his back, and he said it was immediately clear upon reaching Brunner's side that he was suffering a medical emergency.

Brunner had lost consciousness, his breathing was shallow, and he was foaming at the mouth, according to Hamilton. While Hamilton and Lyon cleared Brunner's airway and performed CPR, Roelofs sprinted to his patrol car to retrieve an AED or automated external defibrillator, which is a portable electronic device that can diagnose life-threatening cardiac situations. As Roelofs was running, Brunner stopped breathing and Hamilton said they could no longer feel his pulse.

As all of this was unfolding, the softball players were ushered off the field and taken behind the dugout. Hamilton said he was told the Kingsley players huddled up and began praying.

"The way that those girls and the two teams acted was just amazing," Hamilton said. "These are 14- to 18-year-old girls, and they deserve to be commended for how they handled something they don't normally see."

Roelofs returned with the AED, placed the pads on Brunner's abdomen, and the device proceeded to administer a shock to Brunner and then advised them to continue CPR and chest compressions.

Brunner soon regained consciousness, began coughing and was breathing on his own again. Hamilton stopped CPR but kept an alert Brunner on the ground until paramedics arrived. Brunner was loaded into an ambulance and taken to Munson Medical Center where he remained in stable condition.

Both Roelofs and Hamilton couldn't say whether or not Brunner would have died without the help of the AED, but Hamilton said they were told by medical professionals that if the AED was not there that the "circumstances may have been different."

Had Roelofs not been in a meeting that ran late Wednesday afternoon, the AED would not have been there.

Roelofs usually drives his truck to Kingsley softball games, but he took his patrol car to Benzie on Wednesday because a mutual aid meeting ran long. Although Benzie Central has AEDs on-site in the school building, none were as close as the one in Roelofs' patrol car.

"There were some pieces of that puzzle that came together that were neither expected or planned for," Roelofs said.

Kingsley Athletic Director Mitch Miggenburg, who placed an order Thursday to have AEDs at off-site locations Kingsley uses, called the coincidence "crazy."

"It all kind of worked out. He doesn't normally take his cruiser, but he had to because of this meeting and then ends up saving somebody's life," Miggenburg said. "I'm really proud of our staff. Those are precious seconds, and they jumped in when it mattered the most."

Kingsley softball head coach Jamie Hawkins said he and Hamilton spoke on the drive back to Kingsley after the games were postponed and the scene was cleared. Hamilton told Hawkins the response to save Brunner's life could not have been any faster.

"With those guys there and their training and the AED where it was, it was just all set up in the right way to save Jeff," Hawkins said. "I can't commend my guys enough. Their actions prevented a tragedy."

Both Benzie Central Superintendent Amiee Erfourth and Athletic Director Eli Harris expressed their gratitude for the efforts to save Brunner's life.

"We are just really grateful for those deputies in our communities that have that training and knowledge to make those life-saving decisions at a moment's notice," Erfourth said. "We're very fortunate for that."

"I am glad that he is recovering in the hospital, and I am thankful for the quick action of the coaches who started CPR and those who called 911," Harris added. "It is a terrible situation that ended with the most positive outcome we could have hoped for."

Brunner is a well-known figure in the Traverse-area softball community, and Hamilton referred to him as a "very close and dear friend."

"Amazingly enough, Jeff was texting several of us last night from Munson hospital," Hamilton said. "We're obviously praying for a speedy and full recovery for Jeff and keeping his family in our prayers, too."

Hawkins said there was a giant breath of relief after Brunner was revived. He said he heard from family and friends that Brunner was in "relatively good spirits" Wednesday night. He also texted Brunner to check on him and to wish him well.

"I told him to rest easy and get better," Hawkins said. "We'd like to see him at the game when Benzie and Kingsley are able to reschedule. That would be nice for the kids to see that the actions of well-trained people can make a difference."

As for the trio that saved Brunner, Hamilton said none of them are looking for any "front-page attention." They were just doing their job, he said.

"It's nice for once though that, in today's climate, there's a happy ending and a good, positive story," Hamilton said. "We're all glad about that."


(c)2022 The Record-Eagle (Traverse City, Mich.)

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