By Kathi Bliss
Surging floodwaters created havoc throughout Caldwell County last weekend, creating extremely dangerous conditions that eventually claimed the life of a Lockhart man and left a woman missing.
The storm that dumped up to 10 inches of rain in the early-morning hours of Oct. 31 caused Plum Creek and its tributaries to swell across the county, and sent floodwaters pouring over bridges and low water crossings, resulting in dozens of swift-water rescues, and leaving many stranded in their homes as roads were closed to protect drivers from raging creekbeds.
By 7 a.m., the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Department demanded that the Lockhart Independent School District cancel classes for the day, citing treacherous roadways and danger for students, parents and buses.
Early that morning, Lockhart resident Tracy Jon Ward left his San Antonio Street home, presumably on his way to Smithville, where he was a Special Education teacher at Smithville Junior High School.
Ward, 51, apparently lost control of his vehicle in a hydroplaning incident on FM 20E near Track Road, and his vehicle was pushed from the ditch into the floodwaters. Though witnesses say he was able to escape his vehicle, he was caught in the currents and was later found upstream by emergency service workers. He was pronounced dead on Thursday morning by Caldwell County Justice of the Peace Raymond DeLeon.
Throughout the day on Thursday, the dangers increased and additional water rescues were performed near the San Marcos River, at Old Colony Line Road, and on Highway 86 near FM 1322.
On Friday evening, deputies responded to a call on Elm Creek Road, where a driver reported that he had gone around the barricades into a low-water crossing on Polonia Road, and that his vehicle had been swept into Brushy Creek by the rushing water.
The driver, identified by neighborhood sources as Willie Brite, of Caldwell County, said he had escaped his vehicle but was unsure if the woman he was with was able to escape.
The woman’s identity has not been confirmed by law enforcement sources, and family or friends have not come forward to identify her.
Search crews, including Sheriff’s deputies, the Department of Public Safety and Chisholm Trail Fire Rescue, along with neighborhood volunteers, combed the banks of Brushy Creek for two days, and divers entered the waters in an attempt to locate the vehicle or the woman, but those search efforts were unsuccessful.
DPS Sergeant Darrell Jirrall confirmed on Tuesday that search efforts had been suspended until the currents in the creek had receded. He declined to comment further on the situation, noting that because neither the vehicle nor the woman had been located, the investigation was ongoing.
“We don’t even know how deep the water is right now,” he said. “The divers told us that it’s deeper than we think it is.”
Jirrall said the search would resume, most likely within the week
Brite was taken into custody on outstanding warrants out of Travis County.
Anyone with knowledge of the whereabouts of Brite’s companion is encouraged to contact the Department of Public Safety at (512) 353-7000.