By Kathi Bliss
This week’s rains, a gift to so many farmers and ranchers, became a curse for a local family on Tuesday when a child slipped into a swollen creek.
The 3-year-old, whose parents were identified by the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Department on Wednesday morning as Julia Thomas and Brandon Bukowski, was said to be playing near a creekbed on her family’s property north of Lockhart on Tuesday afternoon when a flood surge crossed wet-weather tributary of Plum Creek, pulling her into the churning, rapidly rising water.
Just before 5 p.m. on Tuesday, emergency responders were alerted one child, a 5-year-old boy, was clinging to a tree in the rising creek water, while the girl, 3, had disappeared. The boy was led to safety by family and first-responders, while crews arrived on scene to enact an extensive search for the girl.
In addition to the swift-water rescue team from Chisholm Trail Fire-Rescue, volunteers from Texas Search and Rescue (TxSAR), including search dogs and boat teams, divers from the San Marcos Police Department, firefighters from South Hays fire department and members of the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office and constable’s office joined in a massive ground-level search, while StarFlight scoured the area from above in hopes of finding the little girl alive.
For nearly six hours, fighting not only the rushing water, but falling darkness and a wave of dangerous storms with cloud-to-ground lightning, and the possibility of hail, searchers formed a web across the creekbed, searching for the child, who officials said was last seen clinging to a branch while family members tried to pull her from the rushing water.
According to Emergency Management Coordinator Martin Ritchey, late in the evening on Tuesday, the TxSAR K-9 teams offered possible hits on the child’s location, and searchers formed a shoulder-to-shoulder net across the creekbed, sweeping through the debris and water in hopes of recovering the child, which they were able to do, he said, around 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
The child was, unfortunately, pronounced dead by Justice of the Peace Matt Kiely late on Tuesday evening. The Sheriff’s Department said on Wednesday morning that an investigation into the drowning was ongoing.
Ritchey reported to the Caldwell County Commissioners Court earlier this month that Caldwell County has one of the highest per-capita fatality rates in the state during flooding events. Last October, the Halloween Flood claimed two lives, one very near the area where the child slipped into the water on Tuesday.
Weather forecasts continue to promise chances of rain through the weekend. As of Wednesday morning, some areas of the County have reported as many as six inches of rain during this week’s rain event, and authorities remind residents that upstream rains can cause not only swelling creeks, but fast-moving, unexpected flood surges in low-lying areas.