Six Missing Family Members Found in Van Along Banks of Greens Bayou

288 North Overpass on West Alabama Street on August 27.
288 North Overpass on West Alabama Street on August 27. Photo by Yuri Pena
In a tragic discovery, the Harris County Sheriff's Office has retrieved a missing van with six dead family members inside — apparent floodwater victims.

Deputies pulled the van from the receded flood waters along the Greens Bayou Wednesday.

Reports of the missing family sprang up Sunday afternoon after a man had told sheriff's deputies during a rescue mission that he was driving the van on Green River Drive, over a bridge at Greens Bayou, when high water began to take the van under, ultimately sweeping it away.  The man, identified by the Houston Chronicle as Sammy Saldivar, was able to escape through the driver's side window, which had been open, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said. Inside the van with Saldivar were his two parents and the elderly couple's four great-grandchildren.

When deputies first encountered Saldivar, he was hanging onto a tree for dear life, his feet dangling into the flood waters.

"On Sunday morning at approximately 10 a.m., our deputies were in the area evacuating and trying to provide high water rescues," Gonzalez said. "From a distance, they could hear someone screaming. They made their way to the voice, and an individual, a male, was clinging on for his life on a tree. At that point, he indicated that his van had submerged as they crossed this bridge, and family members were in there. But the van at that point was under four feet of water."

Sheriff's Office spokesman Jason Spencer had told the Houston Press on Monday that, after rescuing Saldivar, deputies returned to search for the van or bodies in the water, but could not find the van or the family.

Still, other family members had reportedly been returning to the scene, making trips from the George R. Brown Convention Center shelter, to continue searching. Finally, on Wednesday, after the waters had receded, Andrew Saldivar spotted the van. He immediately called authorities, Gonzalez said.

The two grandparents were 81 and 84. The oldest child was a 16-year-old girl, and two boys were ages 14 and eight.

Pasadena Independent School District issued a statement, saying the kids were students at Pasadena High School and Williams Elementary.

"Pasadena ISD's heart is heavy as we have learned that four Pasadena ISD students and two of their great-grandparents were swept away by the floodwaters of Greens Bayou while trying to escape the floodwaters of Harvey," the statement said.

Along with the sheriff's office, the Houston Police Department assisted in recovering the van, and the Harris County Institute of Forensic Science is also on the scene.

The deaths bring the Houston-area fatality count to ten confirmed deaths, with reports of several more deaths awaiting confirmation.

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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn