First Responders Rescue Thousands in Houston, But Now Mourn Veteran Police Flood Victim
By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
Hurricane Harvey pushed Houston's first response abilities to their limit. Houston police officers, firefighters and other first responders have rescued thousands of Houstonians over the past four days. But one Houstonian who could not be rescued was one of their own.
When Houston Police Sgt. Steve Perez’s wife asked him not to report for duty Sunday, Perez said, "I've got work to do." So the 30-year veteran of the department drove off in the midst of Hurricane Harvey to join his fellow officers and the hundreds of other first responders battling the torrential rains and flooding.
Perez’s Police Vehicle Became Trapped in Flood Water
Perez, just days shy of his 61st birthday, drowned in his patrol car when he got trapped in high water, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told a news conference Tuesday that Perez left home at 4 a.m. and spent more than two hours trying to get to his duty station in downtown Houston. Perez could not find a clear route, so he followed department protocol and tried to report to the nearest station.
When Perez did not arrive for regular roll call Monday, officers called his wife. Cheryl Perez said she had not seen him since Sunday, according to the Chronicle.
An emotional Acevedo said officers believed they had found Perez Monday night, but they could not recover his body. "We could not put more officers at risk for what we knew in our hearts would be a recovery mission," he said. Acevedo called Perez "a sweet, gentle public servant."
Search and rescue crews, including a dive team and a member of the “Cajun Navy," a Louisiana-based volunteer rescue force with their own boats, recovered the body of Perez from an underpass on Tuesday, Acevedo added.
Tributes Paid to Tragic Loss of Perez
Local authorities paid tribute to Perez’s bravery and determination. Mayor Sylvester Turner said, "Sometimes you find a way to make it happen, or you die in trying. Sgt. Perez lost his life because he tried to make it happen, he tried to get at his post...that's the ultimate sacrifice."
In a Twitter post, the Houston Police Officers Union added, "We have lost one of our own to this flood."
According to the Chronicle, Perez was the 15th Harvey-related fatality in Texas. Later reports put the death toll at 22 across Texas and officials said they expected that number to increase during the next several days and weeks.