Swift water rescue in Dayton area leads to 1 arrest, 1 fleeing suspect

Authorities responded to the scene of two capsized boats in the Trinity River Monday. The occupants were rescued and one of their rescuers is jailed on a felony warrant out of Chambers County. (Photo courtesy of Westlake Fire Chief J.R. Ungles)

A hog hunter out checking his traps Monday evening set off a dangerous chain of events after his boat capsized in the swift waters of the Trinity River outside of Dayton.

According to Liberty County Sheriff’s Capt. Ken DeFoor, 48-year-old Elizardo Valdez was checking his hog traps along the Trinity River when his boat overturned. Westlake Volunteer Fire Department responded and rescued Valdez from the river that afternoon.

At around 9:23 p.m. Monday, the sheriff’s office received a call that two men were clinging to a structure in the river after their canoe capsized in the water around the same location as the first capsized boat.

“It was determined that Valdez and a friend, Troy Davidson, had returned to the river in an attempt to salvage the boat of Valdez when the canoe also overturned in the flood waters,” DeFoor said.

Westlake volunteer firefighters responded a second time, this time assisted by a Texas game warden and state troopers.

“It was now dark and much too dangerous to put a rescue boat into the flood waters so the U.S. Coast Guard was called to respond with a helicopter to rescue the two men,” DeFoor said.


When the helicopter was still miles away, two local citizens, Rodney Steward and Joshua Loonam, launched a jet ski upstream and managed to rescue the two men from the river. Both of the rescued men were unhurt and in good physical condition, according to DeFoor.

“It was at this point that the game warden noticed that neither the ski boat nor the trailer had proper registration so both were seized by the game warden,” said DeFoor, adding that the seized items remain in custody.

A records check for Steward reflected that he was wanted on an outstanding felony charge out of Chambers County. He was arrested at the scene and placed in the Liberty County Jail. His fellow rescuer, Loonam, reportedly fled the scene by running into the woods. As of 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, he was still on the lam.

“The Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, Texas game wardens and the DPS continue to warn the public to not attempt to go in or around the Trinity River while it is at flood stage and flowing so swiftly. It is dangerous and can put one in a life-threatening situation quickly,” DeFoor said.

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