When Bart Griffiths went to retrieve a home run ball at a Utah rec league softball game, he never expected to save a life. But that’s exactly what happened last Wednesday, when Griffiths — in the right place at the right time — came across a 62-year-old man lying face-down in a canal.
According to the Logan Herald Journal, Griffiths had gone to grab a home run ball at Willow Park Sports Complex, located about 80 miles north of Salt Lake City, when he happened to glance over at an irrigation canal about 15 yards from the field’s left-center field fence.
"I picked up the ball, and I was flipping it and just walking back to bring it in and, I mean, I don’t know what made me glance over there," Griffiths told the Herald Journal. "I glanced over toward the swamp and I thought I saw something gray. What it was, was the tire of the wheelchair sticking up. And I thought, ‘Why is somebody dumping something in the swamp?’
"… And when I went over to investigate and I saw the wheelchair, I thought, ‘Oh my heck, somebody dumped a wheelchair.’ And then I thought, ‘Why would somebody do that?’ But then I went to further investigate and then I saw this body face down in the water, just from the waist down."
That man, according to the Deseret News, was Ernest Virgil, and he had crashed his wheelchair into the canal. Paramedics estimated that he had been face down in the six-inch-deep water — only occasionally lifting himself up by his elbows to breathe — for 15 to 30 minutes before Griffiths found him.
"When I lifted him up I said, ‘Can you hear me?’" Griffiths told the Herald Journal. "And he said, ‘I’m dying,’ And I thought to myself, ‘Oh, that’s a good sign (he’s talking).’"
Griffiths then called 911, and paramedics retrieved Virgil from the canal. He was taken to a local hospital, where he was treated for his injuries — and also cited for intoxication — before being released. But the situation could have easily been worse, especially if Griffiths hadn’t gone after that home run ball.
"It’s not in my job description to retrieve balls," Griffiths told the Herald Journal. "I’m supposed to be there supervising the fields, so I just do it for the exercise. But if Grant (Calverley) wouldn’t have hit his (homer), I don’t think I would have been back out there, since Wednesday was the last day we had games that week. So even right now, that guy might have still been in there."