Flooding claims four lives in D.C. area

September 9, 2011

Jack Donaldson, 12, went outside to have a little fun in the rain with his younger sister and two friends Thursday, before the real heavy stuff began coming down. The kids started out in their driveway and eventually made their way to a neighbor’s yard on Marcliff Court in Vienna.

At the sound of thunder, Jack’s mother called them in.

Ten-year-old Margaret Donaldson came walking up the hill. But her brother was not behind her.

“I went down. I was yelling his name to tell him to come into the car,” his mother, Anna Donaldson, said Friday. “When I got down the slope, he was gone, and he had just been there a few seconds before.”

Police said Jack had been swept away by Piney Branch Creek; his body turned up about two hours later near Lawyers Road. Donaldson said the waterway is typically “a very tiny creek.” But by the time she got there Thursday, “it was a huge, raging river.”

Jack, a seventh-grader at Dominion Christian School in Oakton, was one of four people in the Washington region who drowned this week after drenching rains. Their stories couldn’t be more different and show the random nature of the relentless storm.

They included Arsalan Hakimi of Reston, a 67-year-old pizza deliveryman who had finished his last run of the day Thursday afternoon when the rain made his shop stop home deliveries. He was headed to see his grandchildren at their nearby home in Great Falls when he was killed by roiling floodwaters, his boss said.

A third Fairfax County victim, Galo Sebastian Salvador Vinueza, 25, of Lorton, had made it home in the storm, but he went back out searching for his wife when she was late returning from work, a cousin said.

Police think Vinueza tried to walk across a flooded Accotink Creek Bridge, thinking his wife might have been on the other side, but he got swept away by the rushing current.

The fourth victim was identified by police as Daniel Lambert, 49, of the 400 block of Riverside Drive in Pasadena, Md. He was pulled by officers Wednesday from water near his home but died at a Baltimore hospital.

Grief multiplied by 4

The youngest victim was a mature thinker for his age, his family said.

He would enchant his friends with choose-your-own path stories, allowing them to pick from options that would guide his tale forward. When his family got a dog, he was worried about the sorrow that would come when it eventually died.


Jack Donaldson was in the back yard of his house on Marcliff Court in Oakton with other children when floodwaters swept him away, authorities said. (FAMILY PHOTO)

But Jack Donaldson also loved the things that most 12-year-olds loved — such as throwing a baseball with his dad. Or playing in the rain.

“We’re just completely heartbroken. He was a very caring kid,” Anna Donaldson said. “Every single day, we told him we were proud to be his parents, and we meant it, every day.”

Jack was active in church groups and loved playing baseball, racing toy cars and acting. He had recently been cast as Macbeth in the school play, Anna Donaldson said.

Jack’s father, Tim, introduced his son to Legos at a young age, and the hobby stuck. For his 12th birthday, he went to Legoland in California. He dreamed of being an architect or a Lego designer, family members said.

“He would go to the beat of a different drummer,” Tim Donaldson said.

And he pondered life’s deeper questions, such as death and faith.

“He said he didn’t understand why people were afraid to die,” Anna Donaldson said, “because heaven is such a great place.”

Caring was also a word used to describe Arsalan Hakimi of Reston, who left Iran in the 1980s and picked up the pizza delivery job for a little money in his later years, said son-in-law Bijan Moazami of Great Falls.

Hakimi had worked in the Central Bank in Iran and spent his retirement playing tennis “three or four hours a day,” Moazami said.

Late Thursday afternoon, Moazami’s wife, Tina Moazami, fired off a photo of a rain-clogged Beach Mill Road in Great Falls to her husband’s cellphone and told him to park his sports car and wait for her to pick him up in her sport-utility vehicle at a nearby shopping center. She got him and their son home.

Within hours, near that same stretch of road, her father was swept away.

A woman walking her dog saw Hakimi’s body about 6 p.m. Thursday. Police said he had been carried away by floodwaters in his Toyota Yaris and was swept into a creek as he tried to get out of the car. The car was found with its bumper and door off and a Domino’s vest nearby.

Jim Moran, regional director for Domino’s in Northern Virginia, said that he and Hakimi spoke Thursday morning when Hakimi arrived for a shift at the Great Falls store. But by about 4:30 p.m., the rain and road problems compelled Moran to halt deliveries, and Hakimi told his manager he would head to his daughter’s home, Moran said.

Moran was sobbing as he spoke of Hakimi, whom he called “Big Al.”

“You have to get across what a special guy he was. I have a couple hundred employees, and he stood out” for his enthusiasm and work ethic during at least six years a driver, Moran said. “I just can’t imagine how scared he must have been. Oh, God, that is hard to think about.”

After work, Hakimi would often go to Great Falls to see his two grandchildren, 12 and 14, Moazami said. Hakimi was “a very athletic person, very fit,” Moazami said, “and I never saw him angry, never heard a foul word from him. I never heard him say anything bad.”

Hakimi and his wife, Shokouh, became U.S. citizens, Moazami said, and she lived part of each year in Iran, where she was Thursday. She was en route to Virginia on Friday.

For Vinueza, it was worry that drove him back into the storm after returning to his home in the 9000 block of Two Bays Road in Lorton. His wife, Jenifer A. Salvador, was late returning from work, and he went to search for her, said Paula Guillen, a cousin of Salvador’s.

By the time his wife got home, she had her own worries and went looking for Vinueza. She found only his unattended vehicle parked in the 8800 block of Telegraph Road near the Accotink Creek Bridge, police said. She reported him missing to Fairfax police. On Friday, working with search teams from Fort Belvoir, they found his body at Davison Airfield, police said. Authorities said they suspect Vinueza abandoned the vehicle and was caught in the current after he tried to walk across the bridge.

Daniel Lambert, the victim from Maryland, went to check on crab pots at the end of a pier at his house about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday and fell into the water, said sister Diane Hensen of Brookeville. A neighbor heard Lambert yelling and went in to try to pull him out, she said. Rescue teams got Lambert out of the water, but he died later.

Lambert, a former structural engineer, had recently suffered a medical disability but retained his love of the outdoors and water, his sister said.

Staff writers Jimm Phillips and Luz Lazo and researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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