The husband of a Texas flood victim carried his wife’s lifeless body through a mile of sunken terrain to save it from being washed away in murky floodwaters on Monday.
Darrell Smith, 48, says he escaped his Breckenridge home with his wife, Kay, and his son, Darrell Jr., just as water began seeping in through their front door. Darrell loaded his family in his pickup truck, driving them to safety, but a surge of water quickly submerged the vehicle.
Darrell and Darrell Jr., 27, managed to free their car doors open, but Kay, 61, couldn’t escape.
“I just wish I could have gotten my wife out in time,” Darrell, a Breckenridge city water utilities worker, tells PEOPLE through tears. “She was my best friend, my whole life. I’m so used to us being together, I have a hard time functioning without her.”
Major flooding in Texas has caused at least six fatalities in the state. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster across 31 counties and heavy rain is falling at a rate of up to three inches per hour, according to weather.com.
Darrell, Kay and Darrell Jr. – who has cerebral palsy – were fast asleep early Monday morning when the family dog started barking at the front door at 2 a.m. Darrell made his way to the commotion, but as he neared the entrance to their house, he stepped in water and realized that their home was flooding – and the water was rising quickly.
“I rounded everyone up and we ran to the car, but the water was already knee high in our front yard,” says Darrell. “I got to an intersection and a wave of water from a nearby manmade lake knocked into us, spun my truck and landed us in a ditch that was quickly flooding.”
Darrell was able to pry open his door and the backdoor for his son. When he paddled around to the passenger side he saw Kay “just kind of floating in the water.”
“I pulled her out and gave her mouth to mouth on top of the truck, but she wasn’t responding. I was screaming for help, screaming, but no one came,” he says. “But I knew it was too late, she was gone.”
Darrell says a passerby spotted them and carried Darrell Jr. on his back to higher land.
The father says he “needed” to save his wife’s body so that he could have a proper funeral for her. So he carried her a mile to the nearest highway where he saw flashing lights.
“I couldn’t let her just float away,” he says. “Not like that.”
Kay’s family is “forever grateful” for Darrell’s “heroic” actions.
“He saved my sister from floating away and for that I’ll be forever grateful, he’s a true man,” Vernon Glenn, Kay’s sisters, tells PEOPLE. “He’s my hero.”
He adds, “because of him we will be able to give Kay a proper burial and remember her.”
Darrell and Darrell Jr. were not injured in the incident. The family is planning a memorial service for Kay on Saturday.
“I am so thankful I got my son out,” says Darrell. “But there is an emptiness in my life without Kay, I know she’s in a better place though.”
September would have been the couple’s 20th wedding anniversary.
“Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to prevent things like natural disasters,” says Darrell. “But be sure and hug your loved ones a little closer today, because you never know what will happen.”