Four of five volunteer rescues found dead near Greens Bayou

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Juan Jacquez wanted to believe his relatives were safe.

He told himself they were at a hospital – maybe in San Antonio, far away from Houston’s flooding – as he headed on Thursday to where they were last seen: in an overturned fishing boat in Greens Bayou.

Jacquez thought of his brother-in-law, Benjamin Vizuet, 33, and his mother’s partner, Gustavo Rodriguez, 40, as missing – not dead – as he scanned the banks of the bayou in their northwest Houston neighborhood.

The water level had nearly returned to normal. Alligators swam by.

Jacquez, 28, was optimistic. He didn’t expect to find a body. Until he saw Rodriguez’s neon orange vest.

Vizuet and Rodriguez made headlines earlier this week after their rescue mission went wrong Monday. The pair headed out with Vizuet’s two brothers, Jose and Yahir, 45, and a close family friend, Jorge Perez, 33, in Rodriguez’s 12-foot long fishing boat to a flooded bridge over Greens Bayou on Wallisville Road to save residents of a nearby apartment complex.

Two journalists the U.K.-based Daily Mail newspaper, Alan Butterfield and Ruaridh Connellan, joined them.

The five men didn’t personally know the residents of the apartment complex. But, as local first responders were overwhelmed with calls and as water filled two of the three floors of the building, the men saw neighbors in need, Jacquez said.

“They did it because they saw a whole bunch of people who needed help that nobody was rescuing,” Jacquez said.

The men – all of whom had lived in the neighborhood about four years – saved two families on the way to the bridge. They brought them back to safety at Jacquez’s mother’s house.

But when they headed back to the bridge, their luck turned.

Greens Bayou  had never been so full and the current had never been so strong.

The water level reached about 40 feet, Jacquez later estimated.

The motor of the boat, bobbing in the water, gave out. The water carried the vessel downstream, into a power line. The boat’s seven occupants tumbled overboard.

Only three of them – the two journalists and Jose Vizuet – survived. They were electrocuted and clung to a tree for over 15 hours waiting to be rescued.

Jose Vizuet and the journalists were hospitalized Tuesday.

The Houston Fire Department found Yahir Vizuet and Perez’s bodies the same day, floating in floodwaters downstream from the bridge.

But Benjamin Vizuet and Rodriguez initially missing. 

Benjamin Vizuet was Jacquez’s older sister’s high school sweetheart, Jacquez said. The couple had two sons and a daughter. They, Vizuet’s brothers and Jacquez had gone into Jacquez’s family business together. They owned several car dealerships.

After watching his sister, frantic over the fate of her husband, Jacquez and a handful of other volunteers went out to the bayou on Thursday.

“I wasn’t going to stand there, just waiting,” Jacquez said. “It could have been a week, two weeks.”

They started out on foot and found Rodriguez first, about a mile and a half south of the Wallisville Road bridge, near a bend in Greens Bayou.

They continued their search in a boat. About two hours later, up near the Wallisville bridge, Jacquez spotted a leg – from the knee to the foot – poking out from a pile of rubble along the bayou.

It was Benjamin Vizuet.

The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences have confirmed Rodriguez, Yahir Vizuet and Perez’s deaths late Friday.

They did not release Benjamin Vizuet’s name, but did list an unidentified, 33-year-old man who was found Thursday along the bayou.

A day later, Jacquez couldn’t describe what was going through his mind when he saw Vizuet’s body. He isn’t sure what’s next for his family.

But he doesn’t regret searching the bayou. He just knew he had to find Benjamin Vizuet, for his sister.

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