Heather Owens and Joe Blevins hadn’t planned on going to Ellicott City on Saturday evening. But after catching a matinee screening of “Star Trek Beyond” in Laurel, Md., the couple decided to make the 25-minute drive to the historic town. It was starting to thunder and rain as they left the movie theater, but it seemed like a typical midsummer storm.
As they pulled into a parking lot off Ellicott City’s Main Street, the skies opened up. Rain poured down, and rather than making a dash for cover, they decided to wait out the deluge in their car. As the rain fell in sheets, they noticed the parking lot pooling up and decided to call it a night and drive 15 minutes to their home in Windsor Mill.
They only made it a few blocks. In an instant, Main Street turned into a raging river.
“One second the road was clear, the next it was filled with water,” said Owens, 32, recalling the terrifying moments as her Honda Civic began floating sideways down the street. “I was freaking out and saying, ‘We’re going to die!’ But he was really quiet and saying it was going to be okay. I told Joe, ‘We need to put the windows down so we can get out.’ ”
After that, events are a blur for Owens. The rain was menacing. Officials would later estimate that six inches of rain fell in two hours in the area — a once-in-a-thousand-years event.
“As the car was getting filled up with water, my survival instinct kicked in,” she said. “I was able to crawl out of the window and swim, but the current was really strong.”
She looked back and saw Blevins pulling his way out of the driver’s-side window.
“I saw that he got out but I wasn’t able to reach him,” she said. “I just hoped and prayed that he would make it. He was very smart and he had great survival skills.”
Owens made her way through the torrent, reached firm ground and then clawed her way up an embankment until she got to railroad tracks. She was covered in mud, and her shoes and some of her clothing had been washed away.
She eventually made it to a home on higher ground, and the residents took her in, helped her dry off and gave her clothes. She had lost her phone in the flood, so the couple let her use theirs to call her family.
“The first couple of hours it was chaos, so I was just hoping Joe would find someone with a cellphone and get in contact with his family or my family,” she said. “He knew that I lost my cellphone.”
During her escape, Owens had somehow broken her jaw, and her face was beginning to swell. An ambulance took her to Howard County General Hospital at midnight. There was still no word from Blevins.
“It was really difficult,” she said. “I was trying to hope that he was alive, but I knew that he would’ve contacted someone if he got out.”
Early Sunday morning, Owens was transferred to the trauma unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. It was there, at about 11 a.m., that a Baltimore County police officer came to her room with the news she had dreaded: the body of Joseph Anthony Blevins, 38, was found on the shore of the Patapsco River.
Owens said Monday that Blevins would want more than anything to be remembered as a father.
“He was first and foremost a dad,” she said of her partner of five years. “That’s what kept him going every day. He was a dad who loved and took care of his kids.”
Blevins’s three children — Hailey, 17, Ashlyn 9, and Jacob, 5 — meant everything to him, she said.
Blevins was the director of financial aid at the University of Baltimore, where he loved his work, Owens said. “As someone with a master’s degree, he understood that helping people get their schooling, their education, was important. And he was someone who loved helping people.”
Owens also remembered Blevins as an avid fan of his alma mater, Virginia Tech. The couple tried to attend one of the school’s football games each year, and this year they had tickets to the game against the University of Tennessee in Bristol next month.
The couple traveled often, taking road trips and testing each other with trivia questions to pass the time. Earlier this year, they visited Spain, Italy and France.
An avid reader, Blevins had a tattoo done on his back in homage to Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series. He also was a big fan of classic rock, Owens said. In one year they went to concerts by Elton John, Jon Bon Jovi, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bad Company.
“I’m overwhelmed with shock,” Owens said. “But it helps to talk about him to keep his memory alive. I just think about all the good times we had together, all the good things we did, all the interests that we shared. We were partners in everything.”