HOUSTON (Reuters) - Houston police officer Steve Perez told his wife and family he had no choice but to drive through the torrential rains from Tropical Storm Harvey to get to his job, despite their worries about his safety.
“We’ve got work to do,” he told them before leaving.
He never made it.
Perez, a 60-year-old sergeant with more than three decades on the Houston police force, died in the flood waters after leaving his home on Sunday morning - making him one of at least 12 people killed since Harvey crashed into the Texas coast on Friday as a major hurricane.
City officials were preparing to shelter some 19,000 people as the slow-moving storm lingers over the state, with thousands more expected to flee the area as the flooding entered its fourth day.
“We have 6,500 employees and I’ve only been here nine months,” said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo on Tuesday in a news conference confirming Perez’s death. “But I knew who Steve Perez was because Steve was a sweet, gentle public servant,” he said, his voice breaking with emotion.
According to Acevedo, Perez left home Sunday morning over the objections of his wife and father-in-law, and tried for hours to find a safe path to work as heavy rains made many roads impassable. At one point he called his colleagues, suggesting he would try to work from another station.
But by roll call on Monday morning, when police noticed his continued absence, they launched a search, using divers and members of the volunteer Louisiana Cajun Navy who had helped with rescues in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
His body was found Tuesday morning, Acevedo said. An investigation determined he had driven off an overpass that was 16.5 feet (5 meters) high, and drowned in the waters below.
“I’ll simply say our hearts our saddened. We grieve for this family. We extend to them our prayers from the entire Houston community and, quite frankly, even beyond,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said on Tuesday.
Perez is survived by his wife Cheryl, a son, a daughter and his father-in-law, a Korean War veteran.
Acevedo said the department and the city will give Perez full honors. He is the 85th police officer to die in the line of duty in the United States this year, according to the Officer Down memorial page which keeps track of all law enforcement casualties across the United States.
Reporting by Ruthy Munoz; Additional reporting by Brice Makini; Editing by Lisa Shumaker