Lake County sheriff's deputy dies after suspect fight, car crash

Robert Rumfelt , 50, crashed his patrol car into a tree Tuesday night, shortly after leaving an altercation with several suspects that led to a domestic violence arrest in Lakeport.

"We're in the process of retrieving the body-cam footage and analyzing that, and we have an in-car camera," Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin told KTVU, in the department lobby where flowers, cards, and a photo of Rumfelt make up a memorial to the fallen deputy.

Martin says an autopsy on Thursday may confirm what the sheriff suspects: a sudden medical episode that caused Rumfelt's cruiser to leave the road and hit a tree.  

"Our goal is to determine, what caused it," Marin said somberly, "and was it the result of this person violently fighting with him, resisting ? Or was it just something unfortunate that happened." 

On Rumfelt's Linkedin page, he described his work as "putting bad people behind bars and creating a better community to live in."

That's what he was doing Tuesday about 8 p.m., when he was summoned to back up Lakeport Police on a report of people fighting. A bloodied man ran into the woods, and Rumfelt and another officer chased him. There was a struggle and the 21-year-old man was tased before he was finally subdued and arrested for domestic violence. He already had a warrant for failure to appear on a previous domestic assault. Rumfelt had left the scene, but only drove a few blocks before he crashed.

A second deputy following behind him witnessed it, and was able to summon help quickly, but resuscitation efforts failed.  

"He spent a lot of time in the gym and never backed away from anything physical," said Martin, describing Rumfelt as a highly motivated and professional deputy whose work ethic was shaped by his service as a U.S. Marine.

"His bald head, the steely blue eyes, the intimidating look on his face, all that came in handy," smiled Martin, noting Rumfelt also had a ready chuckle, and a caring heart. 

"He knew what was important to people, whether it was important to him, or anybody else, he had a way of making people feel like they were important." 

Rumfelt was not only a mentor to new deputies, but to teen athletes at his own alma mater, Clear Lake High School.

For two decades,he helped coach the Cardinals football teams.

Wednesday morning at a team meeting, players were informed of his death.

"Everyone's head was hanging down, and some were crying," sophomore Rolando Amaya told KTVU.

"This football team meant so much to him, this school meant so much to him, and he's a legend around here." 

Wednesday evening, at back-to-school night at Clear Lake High, staff and families were still absorbing news of the crash.

"He was one of the father figures in my life growing up," said football coach Augie Perez," and he always pushed us to meet our goals and that's what the kids will miss."

Perez and fellow coach Matt Forsyth were coached by Rumfelt as teenagers.

"He could make you laugh, and he could be tough and run you around," recalled Forsyth, "and he was a military guy. I joined the military after high school and he was one of my idols." 

After a decade-long stint as a Lakeport Police officer, Rumfelt spent several years as a contractor working with the military in Iraq, teaching police practices. After returning to the U.S., he joined the sheriff's department in 2014. 

Rumfelt's father is a former Lakeport city council member, and retired deputy sheriff.

Rumfelt was wearing his father's badge when he died.

He is survived by his parents, wife, two adult daughters, and young grandchildren.

"It's a huge reminder, every time we put on the uniform and badge and kiss our families goodbye, we expect to come home," noted Sheriff Martin, "but it's an unfortunate fact in this line of work, not everybody gets to go home every time."

The department's last line-of-duty death was in 1981.

A memorial service for Rob Rumfelt is planned for September 9 at the Clear Lake High School football stadium.

The football team's home opener, the night before, will be dedicated to him.

"He was always laughing at himself," recalled football coach Shady Cerezo, "and that made others relax and be comfortable around him, and that's what I loved about him."

Senior Justin Cantrell shared a favorite memory.

"We were switching helmets and I dropped mine on his toe and he was wearing sandals," Cantrell recounted, "and he picked me up against the wall like he was going to kill me, but it was funny, just great memories with coach."

A memorial fund has been established to assist the family and the athletic department.

Contributions can be mailed to :

Deputy Rob Rumfelt Memorial Fund 

c/o Umpqua Bank 

805 11th street 

Lakeport, CA 95453

Account number: 3968067466