Hundreds of fellow officers filled the First United Methodist Church of Indio to pay tribute to California Highway Patrolman Michael Brandt who was killed May 6 during a pursuit.
Full military honors were accorded to the 34-year-old Air Force veteran and a 100-vehicle motorcade wound its way through Indio streets to the Coachella Valley Cemetery.
Brandt’s wife Sylvia, twin 5-year-old daughters Monique and Nicole, and other family members heard him praised as a fine officer, loyal friend and dedicated family man.
“I want to assure Sylvia and the family that Michael’s work, his life and his death were not in vain,” said Pastor Arthur Smith, officiating at the funeral service. “The essence of what Michael was will live on. His gentleness, his kindness, his sincerity and his honesty will always find expression in those who loved him.”
Sgt. Dennis Hacker, chosen by the family to deliver the eulogy, said Brandt was “loved and respected beyond words. He loved his job for what he believed it represented and believed that what he was doing was right.”
He called Brandt a high achiever who “gave 150 percent all the time.”
Two hours before the fatal crash, Brandt arrested a suspected drunken driver.
“He wasn’t at a coffee shop kicking back,” Hacker said. “He was out on patrol doing his job. Mike was the kind of cop you wanted next to you on a beat. You could depend on him for anything at any time.”
Off-duty Brandt was a runner, Hacker said Brandt recently had coaxed fellow officers to spend a Saturday morning in an organized run up the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Road – a 2.7 mile journey which climbs 2,000 feet into a mountain canyon.
“Of course, he left us in the dust. Mike beat us by almost 30 minutes. But as each member of the squad crossed the finish line, the guy there to meet each one with a slap on the back was Mike.”
“I’d like to leave you with something bright and cheerful but it’s really hard,” he said. “All I know is when the Good Lord needs a runner, He takes the very best.”
Between 500 and 600 police, fire, and other public safety officers filed past, each covering their hearts with caps. Virtually every local, state and federal public, safety agency was represented from the Mexican border to as far north as Visalia. About 80 CHP officers attended, from state Commissioner Jim Smith to Indio office Capt. Ken Myatt and Brandt’s co-workers.
According to CHP accounts of the accident, Brandt was pursuing a pickup truck down the twisting Highway 74 grade south of Palm Desert May 6, when his patrol car struck a small hill, became airborne and overturned down an embankment. He was airlifted by helicopter to Eisenhower Medical Center where he died a short time later.
The pickup truck investigators believe Brandt was chasing went off the roadway about three miles downhill of the point where the CHP car crashed. The pickup’s driver, Daniel Lee Thompkins, 29, of Fallbrook, was taken into custody on suspicion of felony manslaughter, felony drunken driving and child endangerment. His two children, Robert, 4, and Charley, 3, were in the truck.
Brandt, of Bermuda Dunes, was an eight-year veteran of the force. Starting in the El Centro area office in 1980, he was transferred to Indio in November 1981. He was the first local CHP officer killed on duty in 17 years.