AUSTIN (KXAN) — Rescue crews concluded their search Friday for a missing deputy who was swept into floodwater the day before. Senior Deputy Jessica Hollis’ body was found in Lake Austin about 2 p.m. on Friday.
Crews had resumed their search at 7 a.m. Friday for Hollis, a seven-year veteran of the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, who was swept away early Thursday morning as she checked a low water crossing.
Rescue crews suspended the search when darkness fell Thursday night but are back out early Friday morning with a search team consisting of three boats, a dive team, towing equipment and a sonar scanner at Mary Quinlan Park.
“Our hearts go out to her family and friends as we continue this search for her,” Sheriff’s spokesman Roger Wade said in a statement Friday.
The search for Hollis, 35, continues near Bear Creek — where citizens have been bringing search crews food and drinks to keep them going. There are about 80 people involved in the search, all from various agencies: Travis County Sheriff’s Office, Texas Department of Public Safety, Austin Fire Department, Austin-Travis County EMS, Texas Game Warden and Texas Search & Rescue. Search crews also had the help of dogs Friday morning.
Austin-Travis County EMS spokeswoman Lisa Block says the terrain and conditions have made the search difficult, forcing crews to search some of the same areas more than once. Officials say the area around the creek is surrounded by dense cedar brush, making it challenging for crews to get through. Still, they remain hopeful.
“We’re always holding out hope that she’s sitting on a river bank waiting on us to come pick her up,” said Wade.
One thing Wade says rescuers have on their side is Thursday’s rain — which will actually help in the search since it made the creek clearer. While they have boats on Lake Austin, they plan to search the banks of the creek again Friday because they are hopeful they will find her along the bank. Lake Austin is closed to all boating traffic from Mansfield Dam to Tom Miller Dam while the search continues.
Hollis was checking low water crossing at 3400 block of Fritz Hughes Park Road. at 1:52 a.m. when she called in using her radio to say she was being swept away in the water.
“It’s extremely difficult,” said Wade, who said Thursday they were still holding out hope they would find her. “We’ve got guys who just had breakfast with her, and it’s rough. We’re professionals, and we’ll get through it. And we’ll keep searching until we find something.”
A source close to the investigation tells KXAN that the deputy was on the dive team and was a very good swimmer. Wade confirmed Hollis was on the Sheriff’s Underwater Recovery Team. The source says they did find her “trauma kit,” which indicates she tried to access it. However, it is unclear if she was able to get anything out of it.
Wade says the patrol deputy just celebrated her seventh anniversary with the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. Officials are trying to contact her family in the San Antonio area.
Wade said once the deputy radioed in saying she was being swept away, rescue units immediately responded. EMS crews, fire crews and sheriff’s deputies began their rescue efforts in the area. Shortly after, at 2:06 a.m., Wade said officials found the deputy’s car submerged but she was nowhere to be found.
Alexander Davsley says he stumbled upon what appears to be the deputy’s empty patrol car stranded on the rocks and in the water in Bear Creek — front windows on both passenger and driver’s side down — after it washed away. He said the waterfall seen in the video is by his back porch at a house he is remodeling. While checking on the home Thursday morning, he walked to the waterfall — where he saw the deputy’s car.
The damaged patrol car, with the passenger side window rolled down, was towed away from the scene just after 2:30 p.m.