Divers recover SUV and driver swept off Houston road by storm

By Calvin Palmer

A vehicle washed into a drainage ditch by heavy rains in Houston yesterday morning has been found.

A search of a culvert that runs beneath the Katy Freeway resumed at 9:00 a.m. today and soon found the Toyota RAV4 with a man’s body inside.

A family member identified the body as Apolonio Fuentes, aged 43.

Fuentes and the SUV were found found about 1,000 feet into the pipe, said Houston police Lt R.J. Kleczynski.

The vehicle was resting nose-down, wedged against a wall in 3 feet of water and did not appear to be battered. It will be removed from the pipe this afternoon.

When Christopher Jordan, 41, saw the SUV float away just before dawn yesterday he thought it had a woman inside.

Jordan waded into the four-feet deep water and grabbed hold of the bumper but was forced to let go and the vehicle was swept down the culvert. He called 911.

Police divers ventured about 300 feet down two huge underground drainage pipes and saw tire skid marks on the ceiling of the eastern pipe but had to suspend their search late in the day.

According to a family member, Fuentes had been driving to work around 4:30 a.m. yesterday when he was swept into the culvert.

Evelyn Lavergne, a family friend, said Fuentes’ wife and two children are devastated.

“He was a very good guy, he was a good person,” she said. “It’s a horrible situation. It makes you think you have to be very careful with all this weather.”

The underground culvert is relatively new, installed as part of the Katy Freeway expansion. Texas Department of Transportation officials said plans call for safety grating over the opening, but it had not been installed yet.

Fred Garcia, an engineer with the Harris County Flood Control District, said his agency has been consulting with the TxDOT contractor about the safety barriers for about a year. A similar culvert entrance, on the west side of Beltway 8, will require grating,  too, Garcia said.

[Based on a report by the Houston Chronicle.]

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