AUSTIN (KXAN) — Early on the morning of Sept. 18, flash floods swept away two local law enforcement officers at exactly the same time. Travis County Deputy Jessica Hollis did not survive, but on the other side of the county, Rollingwood Police Officer Josh Odom held on to a tree until fellow officers could rescue him.
“I was under water for maybe 30, 45 seconds,” Odom said. “I took in a few big gulps. There was a moment where I didn’t think … I thought that was it, ‘This is it, because you can’t get a breath.'”
Odom had been trying to block a low water crossing on RM 2244 over Eanes Creek. He had one side blocked with his patrol car but was waiting for backup when a car came toward him quickly. The water over the road was already past his knees. It had just rained more than 4 inches in 30 minutes.
“I don’t blame her,” Odom said of the woman who drove past his barricade. “She didn’t do it on purpose. She couldn’t see, and I can understand that. I mean, the weather was horrible that night.”
Still, Odom tried to stop the woman’s car. He pounded on her windows, but she could not hear him over the pounding rain and thunder.
“I very vividly remember watching the car get swept in, and that’s when I reached for my radio. And then that’s when I got swept in,” Odom recalled.
Under the water, Odom says he thought he might not make it back up.
“By the grace of God, I grabbed a tree branch, grabbed onto it, kind of got my footing and just held on to that,” he said. “The water was getting pretty strong, and the tree I was holding onto was actually started to fall.”
About that time, a group of officers from different departments responded to Odom’s radio call for help. They threw him a rope, and he was able to grab on and help the officers pull him to safety.
“I definitely believe this was a God thing,” Odom said. “I’ve asked myself every day since it happened, ‘Why not? Why not me? Why Jess? And that’s been hard, but there are questions that are never going to be answered. And that’s OK.”
Odom sprained a finger on his right hand and received stitches for a deep cut to his left hand. He also had several scrapes and bruises. He said he is grateful the woman who was swept away survived by getting on top of her car and then climbing to safety in a nearby parking lot. The Rollingwood police chief said she will not be charged with any crime because she could not see the barricade, and the road was not completely blocked off.
The Department is now working with the Texas Department of Transportation to make the area safer, with things like guardrails and flashing lights. Odom is preparing to go back to work next week and said he believes he will be a better officer.
“I’m a different person coming out of it,” Odom said. “You just look at things differently. You appreciate the small things, and you really, you really learn how mortal you are.”