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Tractor rescues couple from stranded car

By Elena Watts
May 27, 2014 at 12:27 a.m.

The Toyota of A. Eugene Bonelli, 79, and Charlotte Bonelli, 79, is flooded where they attempted to drive through the flooded road and were unable to make it across in La Salle. "I didn't know what we'd do, but I knew we'd have to get out. I lowered the window when I heard the engine going," Charlotte said.

LASALLE - Charlotte and A. Eugene "Gene" Bonelli, both 79, passed easily through a couple of inches of water flowing over a Garcitas Creek bridge in La Salle about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.

It was the water-filled dip on the other side of the bridge that seized their Toyota Avalon and turned it sideways.

Heavy rains Monday and early Tuesday caused Garcitas Creek to flood LaSalle Road. The National Weather Service reported .61 inches of rainfall at the airport at 5 p.m. Tuesday. Heavy rain from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. accounted for almost all of the precipitation.

The Victoria area was under flash flood and tornado watches until 11 p.m. Tuesday. Forecasters allowed for the possibility that storms could redevelop in the area during the evening.

A 30 percent chance of rain is predicted through Saturday, with a 20 percent chance Sunday.

The Bonellis were in a hurry to meet their family for lunch at Red Lobster in Victoria when they approached the high water warning sign just before the bridge.

"We can make it through that," Gene Bonelli told his wife, who was driving.

It was not until they crossed the bridge and water was quickly filling the car that Charlotte Bonelli realized they were in trouble.

She lowered her window in anticipation of their escape, and both stepped into the thigh-high water flowing around their car.

"I had on my favorite shoes, so I took them off, even though they were already wet," Charlotte Bonelli said. "Thank God, the water wasn't very cold."

The Bonellis pulled themselves onto the hood of their car rather than risk walking into the water. A car arrived soon and found help for the stranded couple.

"I wasn't afraid, but there was probably a lot more danger than I thought," Charlotte Bonelli said. "We could have been washed into the gully."

Jimmy Easley drove his tractor from his home, which was located nearby, into the rising water. One at a time, Easley transported the Bonellis to safety.

"The first thing I said when I was on dry ground was: 'This is going to be in the Edna Herald,'" Charlotte Bonelli said.

Alfred Warzecha, of Inez, drove the couple home in his truck.

Victoria and Jackson County sheriff's offices responded, as well as the Victoria Fire Department.

The Bonellis retired and built a home on family land in La Salle 12 years ago. Gene Bonelli was president of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and dean emeritus of the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University.

The couple plans to call a tow truck when the water recedes but hopes their partially submerged Avalon serves a deterrent to others in the meantime. They also plan to obey the signs next time.

"What is the lesson today?" asked their daughter-in-law, Linda Bonelli. "Turn around; don't drown."

In hindsight, Charlotte Bonelli said she did not have a good feeling about driving on U.S. Highway 59 that afternoon.

"You have to listen to that voice," she said. "Something worse might have happened on 59."



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