A 60-year-old veteran Houston police officer died after he drove into floodwaters on his way to work Sunday morning, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said in an emotional press conference today.
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On Sunday at around 4 a.m., Sgt. Steve Perez left his home amid torrential rains, Acevedo said. After Perez drove on dark roads for two-and-a-half hours while trying to get to his duty station in downtown Houston, Perez called his commander to say he couldn't make it in, Acevedo said.
Perez then followed protocol and attempted to drive to the secondary station in Houston's Kingwood neighborhood, Acevedo said.
The next day, Perez's chain of command was holding regular roll call when he noticed Perez was not present, the police chief said. Attempts to reach him were not answered, and his wife said she hadn't seen him since 4 a.m. on Sunday, Acevedo said.
Perez was a "dedicated individual" who would not just not show up for work, Acevedo said.
By 10 p.m. Monday, rescue crews narrowed the search for Perez to Hardy Toll Road and Beltway 8 in Houston and called for a dive team. Acevedo said. Search crews even enlisted the help of the volunteer "Cajun Navy" to help look for Perez, Acevedo said.
"We couldn't find him," Acevedo said through tears.
Once the dive team got to the scene, it was "too treacherous to go under and look for him," Acevedo said.
"We could not put more officers at risk," Acevedo said.
The dive team went back out at 8 a.m. this morning and found Perez "within 20 minutes," Acevedo said.
Perez drowned after driving into a flooded underpass, Acevedo said.
It is with a heavy heart that we announce the tragic in the line of duty death of Sergeant Steve Perez. pic.twitter.com/cHJxjnFgII— Houston Police (@houstonpolice) August 29, 2017
Perez was two days shy of his 61st birthday and had been with the department for 34 years, Acevedo said. The sergeant was assigned to the department's traffic enforcement division.
Police notified Perez's family at the sergeant's home, Acevedo said. His wife had asked him not to go into work that day, but Perez responded with, "We've got work to do," Acevedo said.
Perez is survived by his wife and two adult children, the Houston Police Department said on Twitter.
Acevedo described Perez as a "sweet, gentle public servant" and a man of faith.
"When you have faith, there's hope," Acevedo said.
Hurricane Harvey has caused record flooding in the Houston area after it made landfall in Texas late Friday night. Nine people, including Perez, have been confirmed dead as a result of the storm, officials said.