Selfless Iraq War vet ignored floodwaters threatening home to rescue motorists trapped on Mission Road

Don Austin shows how high the floodwater covered Mission Road near his home.
Don Austin shows how high the floodwater covered Mission Road near his home.

Don Austin knew what to expect last Friday night when torrential rain forced Brush Creek over its banks and out chest-high onto Mission Road by his home at the corner of 68th Street.

Similar floodwaters had poured from the creek and onto Mission in 2010 where the road dips near Schliffke Park in Prairie Village.

Motorists would have a problem. Taking care of his own home would have to wait.

“I’m a vet of two tours in Iraq,” Austin said. “Helping and going into soldier mode is second nature for me.”

Quickly changing out of his pajamas, the first thing he saw out his door was a Jeep Renegade starting to float down Mission, its teen-age driver trapped inside.

“I dove out in the street and I saw this young kid, he was bewildered and didn’t know what to do, the water was so high,” Austin said. “At first I tried pushing it, but the current was so strong.

“I convinced him to let me help him out. That was one.”

No sooner than the teen was safe with Austin’s wife back at their home, he saw another driver in distress. A woman in her 50s driving a new Audi.

“She didn’t know what to do and didn’t want to open the door,” Austin said. “I told her to go out the sunroof. She had the same look of panic.

“She crawled out and I put her on my shoulders and carried her out.”

Then another jeep, a guy in his 50s, same look of fear and panic in his face.

“I kept telling everyone ‘I got you,'” Austin said. “I put him on my back too. He was worried about his cellphone.”

Three rescues, and one last bit of unfinished business.

“I tied the kid’s car to a tree so it wouldn’t float away,” Austin said.

But later, after all his rescuing, Austin realized his own home had been damaged with more than three feet of water in the basement and over a foot in the garage.

Camera gear he had brought back from an earlier high school photo shoot was lying in the garage, ruined, an estimated $6,000 worth. In the basement, his old Army gear was among the stored items soaked.

And while Austin was required to carry flood insurance by FEMA at cost of $300 per month, there is a $5,000 deductible and contents such as the camera gear isn’t covered.

“I didn’t think about that,” he said. “I was about helping people. I thought about that later, a life is worth way more than gear.”

The next morning, Austin received what he feels is his reward.

“It was a note from the kid’s mom, a lengthy thank you note,” he said. “That’s all that matters to me.”

Julia Young, whose 18 year-old son Jack was in the Jeep Renegade, said her family is incredibly grateful to Austin.

“It was raining so hard he could hardly see and within a matter of seconds the water rose and set all those cars afloat,” she said.

“We appreciate Don and his wife and everything he did for a complete stranger. It was amazing how many people he helped and how nice he was to my son.

“People don’t go out of the way to help other people these days, but I think in this community they do.”

Cars engulfed by the rising waters last Friday night. Photo by Don Austin