Petworth man abandons his minivan just as flash flood sweeps vehicle away

By Mary Pat Flaherty
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 13, 2010

"I couldn't drink it. I didn't have a paddle. So, yep, I bailed right out of that minivan."

And thus did Bradley Broadus watch his "really loaded" 2005 Chrysler Town & Country wash away in a flash flood that he saw bearing down on him Thursday morning during his regular-as-clockwork trip through Rock Creek Park in the District.

Broadus made for the high ground on Brandywine Street near Broad Branch Road, spotted a nice tall security fence near one of the consulates, pulled himself up, wrapped his arms around a sturdy tree limb and "for about 30 minutes, it seemed, held on and probably looked the fool, a grown man in a tree. A panicked fool."

A panicked fool in a T-shirt with a nifty peace sign on the front.

Broadus, 57, had dropped a friend off at work at American University about 7 a.m. as he does most weekdays and was homeward bound to Petworth along a route whose every turn he can recite. Then, at Brandywine and Broad Branch, he saw water rising from the adjoining stream. He stopped, put it in park and got out in the driving rain to take a look. It looked bad.

He got back in, set the emergency brake ("which I never do") and glanced in the rearview mirror.

"A wall of water" that U.S. Park Police estimated at 15 feet was headed toward him. From his perch on the fence, Broadus saw the water move the van about five feet, then another "10 or so" and then out of sight. Away went the TV and DVD player and his wallet and a $20 bill he had in a cup holder. The van came to rest about a quarter-mile south.

"That water was so loud, you cannot believe it, and the trees whipping around and being pulled along in the water," Broadus said. "I couldn't see where my van was, but I had a pretty good view of everything else from the fence."

Broadus said he hovered "about three feet above water passing by under me" as Park Police dealt with other cars that were swept away. An officer spotted his light-blue van lodged against supports for a bridge that carries Ross Drive over the creek. The officer broke the window after seeing the car seat that Broadus keeps for his grandchildren.

But Broadus had been riding alone.

Meanwhile, back at the tree, Broadus clambered down as the storm abated and flagged a passing television crew. When they heard his story, "they asked me if my van was silver or blue and when I said yes, they told me police were looking for me and they knew where it was."

The TV and DVD that had entertained the family on road trips to points as distant as Key West, Fla.? Ruined.

His wallet was gone, so Broadus spent the rest of the day calling banks and credit card companies to cancel accounts.

But the $20? "I got that. About the only thing I did save, and I should put it on the lottery -- more than one person said that to me."

And how did he get home? The tow truck driver, lugging the van behind them.

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