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Sheriff presents life-saving award to Mason Twp. Man

Published 8:26am Friday, October 23, 2009

Sheriff Joe Underwood presents a life-saving plaque Oct. 22 at Mason Township Baptist Church to Jay Breden of Grange Street, Edwardsburg. (The Daily News/John Eby)
Sheriff Joe Underwood presents a life-saving plaque Oct. 22 at Mason Township Baptist Church to Jay Breden of Grange Street, Edwardsburg. (The Daily News/John Eby)

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

EDWARDSBURG – Typical of true heroes, Jay Breden shies from the limelight.
Cass County Sheriff Joe Underwood wanted to recognize Breden, 45, for pulling a woman from a fiery vehicle last month and saving her life on his way home from church.
Except Breden declined to come to the Cass County Board of Commissioners meeting.

Underwood persisted through Breden’s pastor at Mason Township Baptist Church, the Rev. Jim Garnett, and met his reluctant honoree halfway, presenting his award Thursday evening at his church with only youth Bible quiz program participants looking on before they finish their pizza and buckle down to their studies of Corinthians I and II.

The scripture “embeds the Word of God in their hearts.”

On Thursday, Sept. 17, at 8:27 p.m., deputies from Underwood’s Cass County Sheriff’s Office were summoned to the Mason Township intersection of Five Points Road and Grange Street.

Deputies arrived to find the vehicle involved in the crash consumed by fire.

The driver, Erica Briggs, 39, of Cassopolis, was pulled unconscious from the wreckage by Breden, who was just arriving home from church a mile and a half away.

“He just happened to be at the right place at the right time,” said his wife, Denise. The couple have four daughters.

“Her family stops to let us know how she’s doing,” Mrs. Breden said, “because we want to know.”

The northbound Briggs vehicle failed to stop at the “T” intersection where Five Points meets Grange and struck a clump of trees on the north side.

Porter Township Fire and Ambulance and Osolo Ambulance from Indiana assisted.
Briggs was taken by ambulance to U.S. 12 and Five Points, then transferred to Med-Flight staff for airlift to South Bend, Ind., Memorial Hospital for treatment.

“We think it’s a very important issue and we’re glad, and the person involved in the accident is very glad Jay was around when he was because the vehicle caught fire. I
“t wasn’t just a matter of opening the door. He had to go through the back door to get up to the front to get it open. She’s recovering.” said the sheriff, who was joined by Undersheriff Rick Behnke.

“This life-saving award issued by the Cass County Sheriff’s Office honors Jay D. Breden for his heroic actions on Sept. 17, 2009. We thank you again,” Underwood said.

“Her boyfriend stopped by our house the other day,” Breden said. “She’s out of critical care and doing better. Both her legs are in casts and they’re not letting her walk yet, but she is improving.”

Breden recalled arriving “at the edge of our driveway, about 100 yards from the intersection. We were slowing down to make the intersection, going around the corner to go to the farm drive, and she went plowing through.”

Growing up on the corner of Tharp Lake and Calvin Hill, Breden recalled helping a driver’s education instructor in a wreck, “but I was much younger and didn’t have much understanding of what all was going on. You hate to hear that metal.

“It was sparking as I got up to her. There was a little glow in the engine compartment. As I was getting her out, I could see it start catching on fire. I pulled her out and got her away from the car a little ways. The daughters brought a fire extinguisher to us and we shot some of it on the engine area.”

The first thing Breden noticed was that there an empty infant safety chair in the back seat.

“I was concerned there might have been a baby somewhere,” he said. “Flames were growing again after I got done looking. We pulled her farther away from the car. Someone brought another fire extinguisher, so we took another look,” but they determined no child had been hurled under the deployed air bags.

Now that Briggs is out of special care, the Bredens resume thinking about visiting her.
“We tried once before,” he said, “but South Bend Memorial won’t let you in the ICU ward unless you’re family.”

When he’s not saving lives, Breden “raises kids and works” in Bristol, Ind., building modular classrooms and day care facilities.

And he’s very active at Mason Township Baptist, which he’s been part of for the 20 years of his marriage and almost 10 years before that.

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