People make their way out of a flooded neighborhood after it was inundated with rain water following Hurricane Harvey on August 29, 2017 in Houston, Texas.
Scott Olson / Getty Images
A veteran Houston police officer drowned Sunday after he became trapped in floodwaters, officials confirmed Tuesday at an emotional news conference.
Houston Police Sergeant Steve Perez died when he drove his patrol car “in the darkness” under an underpass into deep water, police chief Art Acevedo said. When Perez got out his car, he was swept away, Fox 26 Houston reported.
The 60-year-old officer's wife had asked him not to go to work, but Acevedo said he went anyway.
“This is an individual who was with HPD, Houston's finest, men and women in blue, for 34 years,” Mayor Sylvester Turner told reporters. “In fact, he was two days shy of his 61st birthday. And he lost his life on Sunday morning on his way to work.
“On behalf of the people of the city of Houston and our great city, I want to take the time to extend my condolences, my prayers, to his family, specifically to his — specifically to his wife, Cheryl, to his son as well as to his daughter.”
The Houston Chronicle first reported Perez's death, but officials would not immediately confirm it.
“He was trying different routes, and took a wrong turn,” one high-ranking official told the Chronicle.
Perez spent more than two hours trying to find a safe way to his station before calling his commanders and reporting that he could not get to the station, Acevedo said. Parez then followed protocol, which was to go to a second station in the Kingwood area in northeast Houston, the police chief added.
On Monday, commanders realized that Perez had not made it to the station in Kingwood.
On Monday evening, the search area was narrowed and a dive team was called in along with the Cajun Navy volunteer search and rescue force. However, the flooding in the search area was too severe and the search was delayed until Tuesday, when at around 8 a.m., rescuers recovered Perez's body.
At the news conference, Acevedo became choked up describing Perez as “one of the sweetest people I've ever met.”
Officials in Harris County — which includes Houston — told BuzzFeed News that in addition to two confirmed deaths, including Perez, they “highly suspect” seven additional deaths “are related to the hurricane.” Officials have also confirmed an additional fatality in Rockport.
If you've been impacted by the storm in Texas or have a tip about rescue, relief, government, or aid efforts, call the BuzzFeed News tipline at (646) 589-8598. Find us on Signal, email, SecureDrop, and more here.