KHOU 11 reporter reflects on whirlwind month since rescue of truck driver

Ellen DeGeneres surprised KHOU 11 reporter Brandi Smith and the truck driver she rescued, Robert Roberson, along with his wife, Virginia, on her show this week.

What a difference a month can make!

On Aug. 27, I was soaking wet and cold, reporting live along the North Sam Houston Tollway as remnants of Hurricane Harvey flooded the city of Houston. Well, flash forward to Sept. 27 when my parents got to watch along with the rest of the country as I met Ellen DeGeneres. "Overwhelming" seems like an understatement.

The segment that aired Wednesday highlights the small part I played in the rescue of Robert Roberson, but I want to make sure three other people are acknowledged: photographer Mario Sandoval and Harris County reserve deputies Marty O’Brien and Richard Jue. Without them, Robert may have suffered the same fate as a driver who passed away at that intersection in 2016.

When I first found out about the possibility of being on The Ellen Show, I was floored. There are so many other examples of heroism on display during Harvey: first responders working tirelessly to save people, Good Samaritans jumping in boats to pull strangers out of flooded homes, neighbors taking in neighbors whose homes took on water. There were also many examples of fellow reporters – here in Houston and beyond – who stepped beyond their role as a journalist to help others. My thanks goes out to everyone who helped in any way while Houston was battered by its worst storm in history.

Appearing on the show included a whirlwind trip to Burbank. I flew to Los Angeles after working my usual morning shift Monday and had to miss work on Tuesday for the taping. I flew out on the red eye Tuesday night and was back at work Wednesday!

Here’s how it all went down: A lot of people back home asked if I knew Ellen was going to bring out Robert and Virginia Roberson or that she would present me with a $25,000 donation for hurricane relief. The answer? Not exactly. I mean, it’s Ellen! She does incredible things every day, brings joy to people every day and displays amazing generosity every day. I suspected something might be in the works, but I had no idea she would go to this level.

So there I am, ready to go on stage and meet Ellen for the first time, silently coaching myself not to stutter or sound like an idiot (not sure I succeeded entirely), then...BOOM! I get the cue, and it’s time to walk out. The rest is honestly a blur. I remember getting to hug Ellen (awesome!), stumbling through my answers (less than awesome!) and getting to see the Robersons again (back to awesome!). The check presentation about made me start crying, but I think I kept it in check until we were off the set.

I have to tell you, the Robersons are so grateful to Mario and the deputies for helping to save Robert’s life. As you might imagine, they’re also pretty over the moon about the $10,000 Ellen gifted to them. Robert says he’s going to take Virginia to see “some of that blue water.”

I chose to donate that $25,000 to Rebuild Texas, which is already more than halfway to its goal of raising $100 million for hurricane relief. Most of us don’t have that kind of money to give, but I want to remind you that every little bit helps. If you can, please donate, whether it’s $5 or $5,000.

I know this seems more like a giant thank you than a write-up of my experience, but I also want to acknowledge a few women without whom none of this would be possible: TEGNA VP of News Ellen Crooke, KHOU General Manager Susan McEldoon and KHOU News Director Sally Ramirez. These three led an incredible team to get our station back up and running after our building flooded. They inspire me every single day.

Finally, thank you to YOU. Yes, you. You are helping to keep all of us here at KHOU 11 going, too. Thank you for your patience during our early days at Houston Public Media. Thank you for still turning to us for your news each day. Thank you for supporting local journalists, some of the best examples of which can be found in this newsroom.

© 2017 KHOU-TV


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