Man who tried to save driver from Houston floodwaters: 'I just could not get to her'

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Claudia Melgar drowned after she drove into high water at the underpass of Westpark Tollway near Post Oak.

Monday's flooding in Houston was a day of both heroics and tragedy, and on the Westpark Tollway, the two met.

"I knew the person was in there and alive. All I kept thinking was if I could just make it there maybe I could get the door open," recalled Bill Smiers, a member of the Harris County Toll Road Authority's Incident Response Team.

Smiers was sitting in his truck early Monday morning blocking off the Post Oak Exit on the Westpark Tollway. It's a deep underpass that often fills with floodwater.

At 6:09 a.m., roadway video shows an SUV squeeze by his truck. Video released Wednesday shows the vehicle drive into the water and immediately start floating.

The driver, now identified as Claudia Melgar, used the light from her cell to signal for help.

"The deeper she got, the more frantically she was waving it," Smiers explained.

PHOTOS: Flooding across southeast Texas


Smiers, a military veteran who has worked the toll road for 10 years, made two attempts to swim to the SUV even as the pumps underneath were sucking him down. He got within about 12 feet, but had to turn back.

"At that point, I've got three boys of my own and a family and I have to see what I can do to save myself," Smiers said.

He met with the Melgar family Wednesday to offer his condolences and apologized.

"I just could not get to her," he said.

Melgar was a college student from the Houston area. She was one of eight people who have died from flooding in the Houston area.
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