Brad Byrd In-Depth: Evansville Police Officers Help Harvey Victims

Two devastating storms have ripped through the United States in the past two weeks with Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma.

Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas coastline including the city of Houston with mass flooding. Several Tri-State businesses and organizations have stepped up to collect donations and drive them down to the area to help victims.

The Evansville Police Department partnered with the Goodwill and Crossroads Church to collect donations which were driven down in a tractor trailer. Officers helped several victims who were impacted by Harvey including a World War II veteran who lost his home.

Brad Byrd talks with Evansville Police Officers Paul Jacobs and Lenny Reed about their trip to Houston and helping victims hit hard by Hurricane Harvey.

Transcription of interview:

Brad Byrd: "Welcome to In-Depth. We have now seen two hurricanes... two disasters rip through our country in two weeks, causing pain and heartache -- Hurricane Harvey and now Hurricane Irma. Both impacted millions of people in different ways and this is a story that's going to be going on for quite some time. So how could a group of local law enforcement officers, a couple of EMT's, and a firefighter from the Evansville area help? Why would they help? Well, I'm joined tonight by Officers Paul Jacobs and Lenny Reed of the Evansville Police Department. And, Paul and Lenny thanks a lot for joining us. I don't know where to begin because we're going to need some time tonight to really, to give this story some justice. But, first of all, what was the spark told you 'I want to help, I want to go down to Houston.'"

Officer Lenny Reed: I've got a connection. I've been down there for about nine years to train. The Evansville Police Department sent me down there years ago for a tactical medical class. I go back every year as an instructor. Over time you build friendships with brothers and sisters in arms and so they... they turn out to be family to us. So that's the... that's the bond that we have. Seeing the devastation firsthand, coming through my cell phone via text, it broke my heart to say the least to know that, you know, these people are  battling through that but yet they're leaving.. they're leaving their homes to go still care and still provide service to that city."

Brad Byrd: 'And Paul, we were talking about the fact that, you know, it was just a... basically a simple Facebook post that you needed a few items to take down, and I know you had the full backing of Evansville Police Chief Billy Bolin and the Winnecke administration in doing this. But, to help these folks, you really learned a lot... learned something new about the people here in Evansville. When you started loading those trucks."

Officer Paul Jacobs: "Yeah, we sure did. You know, initially, Lenny had put the Facebook post out there. You know, 'What could we do to help?' and I called him immediately and I said, 'Hey', I said... You know, Lenny and I had talked about some projects before to help some people out and I said, 'Hey, let's just call the chief and see what he says.' And Lenny called the chief and he was behind us 100% and I said, 'You know, well, maybe we'll just put a Facebook post out and ask for some supplies, donations and things of that nature.' And that's what we did and so I said, 'Well, we'll take a truck and enclosed trailer and we'll take it down there to Cypress Creek.'"

Brad Byrd: "And you had some very interesting people who showed up. You were telling me about a little girl who showed up with something for someone down there."

Officer Paul Jacobs: Yeah, we had a little girl that walked in the F.O.P and she was with her mother and she had a teddy bear in her hand and she walked up to us and she said, 'This is my favorite teddy bear.' And she said, 'Will you just take it to...will you just take it to somebody down there that needs it?'"

Brad Byrd: "And, Lenny tell me...."

Officer Lenny Reed:  "It's heartbreaking."

Brad Byrd: "Indeed, and inspiring too at the same time. Lenny, tell me about your team. This group of people that went down."

Officer Lenny Reed: "We had nine people total: six police officers, one of the finest Evansville Fire Department firefighters I've ever encountered in Curt Behme. We had a paramedic from Poseyville, Paige Jones. We had a civilian, Jake Hall. We had that team, a very tight knit group, obviously afterwards. All with specialty backgrounds that we felt could benefit the Houstonians."

Brad Byrd: "And, Paul and Lenny, you can weigh in on this. You know, we often see video of disaster scenes, reporters standing out in the wind and what have you. But when you actually got down there, were you overtaken by what you saw? The breadth of this disaster in Houston?"

Officer Paul Jacobs: "Absolutely Because there was no turn that you could make where somebody wasn't touched, devastated. I mean it didn't matter what direction you drove, the sights, the smell when you rolled down the window was just overwhelming and it's just flooded every bit of your emotions with how bad this was."

Brad Byrd: "I want to put up a picture right now of Lenny and you, Paul, with this lady who is a deputy, I believe down there who definitely had gone through hell and back from this storm. Tell me about this photo and what these Tri-Staters, what you did to help her."

Officer Lenny Reed: "That's Linda Rodriguez. She's a Harris County sheriff deputy. She's been on for 20 plus years for that agency. She lives in the heart of the city, some of the heaviest flooding. Her home was completely destroyed. Cyprus Creek did a wonder job of passing out emails to people that were in need, and she responded early on. We took some humanitarian supplies, cleaning supplies, food. In the midst of losing everything that they had when they were asked to provide of list of things they needed, they asked for five or six items. It emotionally takes over you because they have nothing yet. They're asking for only a few things. We went above and beyond. We took way more than what they asked for. We went inside her home, and she really asked for labor. And we ended up ripping out four of her floors down to the concrete. I've never seen a group work so hard in my life. I'm beyond proud of not only the team that went down there, but I'm proud to have been a part of it. And it's been life altering for me."

Brad Byrd: "And she had a couple of sons who were helping out, Paul. And I believe her husband has a disability, so she was pretty much on her own."

Officer Paul Jacobs: "Yeah, she really was. Both of her sons were law enforcement officers, and they're demanding they work 12 hours shifts at this time. And it's hard for them to even help their own mother."

Brad Byrd: "And you did all of this in a matter of three days. And we're not just talking about one family here. You're telling me there were about 140 families, Lenny?"

Officer Paul Jacobs: "He has the final number now as of today."

Officer Lenny Reed: "So, as of today, there is 270 plus families that had been provided humanitarian supplies from our area. There was a large nursing home that was supplied all of the adult diapers and wheelchairs and all of the items associated with helping them plus food and water. It is beyond my wildest imagination. I knew this city was a great city. The bar is raised to standards I don't know if we'll ever see met. The Tri-State really opened its hearts to give."

Brad Byrd: "And the Tri-State as you know, there are people here who have suffered greatly through natural disasters dating way back to the 1937 flood and of course the tornadoes. A World War II veteran you met, okay, you tell me this is a man that's 99-years-old, and he has served his country, a member of the greatest generation. He lost everything, so what did you do?"

Officer Paul Jacobs: "And more. Three months ago his wife passed away. In 1972, they built this home they're living in. Three months ago his wife passes away, and this flood destroys his home. He's heartbroken. And there was a call to arms by Navy Seal Marcus Letrell, the lone survivor, on his Facebook post. And with two minutes of him posting it, I contracted his wife, Melanie Letrell, and I said 'You're not going to believe this, but there's a team of nine of us in Houston. We can be there tomorrow at noon.' She said 'Come on over.'"

Brad Byrd: "And basically, you had to very quickly, and this can be painful in itself, demolish this house what was left of it, so it can be rebuilt. How did that touch you, Lenny?"

Officer Lenny Reed: "Like I said, all of it has been life altering for me. I was an emotional roller coaster trainwreck. To be able to provide, even if I just picked up a broom and swept his floor it would have been an honor for me knowing that this World War II veteran gave everything that we had back then to protect our freedoms today. And for me to provide to him, is beyond my wildest imaginations, and I cannot honestly describe it or put it into words."

Brad Byrd: "Did you get any sleep?"

Officer Paul Jacobs: "A little."

Brad Byrd: "A little? One little sidebar here before I say farewell to you tonight is you stepped on a nail and didn't even know it. When did you find out about that?"

Officer Paul Jacobs: "I got home and I realized I had a hole going completely through my foot. But in the heat of battle so to speak I didn't even know it."

Brad Byrd: "And as far as the dangers you felt, you told me when you were there it was tough as far as the ambiance, the smell, what you were seeing. But you're going to go back down south. Tentatively, you're talking about going down to the Florida area."

Officer Paul Jacobs: "Yes, that's correct."

Brad Byrd: "And that's still in the planning stages?"

Officer Lenny Reed: "Yes, we're in the planning stages. We're trying to work out some logistical things. We don't have the green light as of yet, but we have full support from our chief."

Brad Byrd: "Alright, well I wish I had more time right now, but we're going to devote more stories to this effort. There are so many stories you encountered down there. But thank you so much, Lenny Reed and Paul Jacobs, for coming out here. I know you're still tired from this trip."

Officer Paul Jacobs: "Well, we appreciate the citizens of Evansville so much. They were absolutely incredible. And if it weren't for them to back us, we would have never been able to have done this. Evansville, you've fueled my fire. It's a great city."

Brad Byrd: "Well, you guys were driving the boat and provided leadership down there. Thank you so much."

Officer Lenny Reed: "And quickly if I could add, it's amongst the team the city provided. Goodwill stepped up to the plate and provide trucks and drivers, and Crossroads Church stepped up and provided a lot of things for us that made our mission a success. So, God bless them. God bless the Goodwill and Crossroads for helping us."

Brad Byrd: "Alrighty, Paul Jacobs and Lenny Reed, thank you so much for joining us tonight. And on your next journey, God speed to you."

(This story was originally published on September 11, 2017)

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