‘The ultimate sacrifice’: A Houston policeman drowned in Harvey floodwaters

Houston police sgt. steve perez
Houston Police Sgt. Steve Perez. Houston Police Department

Houston officials on Tuesday confirmed the death of police Sgt. Steve Perez, who drowned in his car on Sunday after being trapped by Harvey floodwaters as he was attempting to drive to work.

Perez, 60, was a 34-year veteran of the Houston Police Department, and a “sweet, gentle public servant,” police Chief Art Acevedo said at an emotional news conference Tuesday.

Acevedo said Perez had departed his home for work at 4 a.m. on Sunday amid torrential rains, and struggled for roughly two and a half hours to find a route to his duty station in downtown Houston.

“In the darkness, Sgt. Perez drove under an underpass … and drove into the water,” he said.

Perez’s vehicle wasn’t found until Monday night, The Houston Chronicle first reported. Acevedo said the floodwaters remained too treacherous to attempt a recovery, but that officers kept watch over the area. A dive team eventually recovered his body on Tuesday morning.

“Sometimes you find a way to make it happen, or you die trying,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at the news conference Tuesday. “Sgt. Perez lost his life because he tried to make it happen, he tried to get at his post … That’s the ultimate sacrifice.”

Turner added that Perez had been so determined to report for duty that morning, that when his wife urged him to reconsider leaving home, he responded, “I’ve got work to do.”

Perez’s death is the 15th Harvey-related fatality, with the toll expected to rise as the floodwaters recede. Officials have said more than 17,000 people have sought refuge in shelters and hundreds of thousands will likely seek some form of disaster assistance.

Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast Friday night, bringing heavy rains and dangerous flooding across southeastern Texas that is expected to continue throughout the week. It has since been downgraded to a tropical storm, and continues to pummel Texas and Louisiana with record-breaking rains.

Forecasters predict the Houston area could receive up to 50 inches of rain by Friday, and the floodwaters should persist for days.