DEER PARK, Texas — One week after an EF-3 tornado ripped through Deer Park, survivors reliving the terrifying moments including a Deer Park police officer who ran out mid-tornado to help rescue his K-9 partner.
Officer Joel Nitchman has been side by side with narcotics K-9 Roni since 2018. Last Tuesday, the pair had just got back to the police station from training when the winds started picking up.
Roni was in his kennel in the squad car.
"The thought of debris, or the car flipping over ... I couldn't do that to him. I couldn't have him out there during that," Nitchman said.
Surveillance cameras captured Nitchman running outside while lightning flashed. He said he could barely see.
"I knew something was bad when things were hitting my face. I knew it was debris of some kind," Nitchman said.
It was about to get much worse.
"Once I went around the car, that's when all heck broke loose," Nitchman said.
The wind and rain were so strong, he couldn't get Roni out.
"I could barely open his door," Nitchman said. "When I did, he's a smart dog, he saw what was going on outside and he said I'm not coming out."
Nitchman knew he didn't have much time to get back inside. At one point, he said the visibility was down to zero around him.
"I'm, like, coaxing him, 'Come on, buddy. Let's go,'" Nitchman said.
Seconds later, the pair was seen rushing back around the squad car toward the safety of the station. The front door was nearly blocked by a fence that had been tossed around in the wind.
"Never been through anything like this before," Nitchman said.
One week after the close call, the video went viral. Nitchman's been celebrated for putting himself in harm's way to save his K-9 partner. He said he did what anyone would have done and he'd do it again in a heartbeat.
"I love that dog. He's my hip attachment almost every day of the week," Nitchman said. "He's a part of our family. We can't leave a loved one like that. There's no way I was going to leave him like that."
Now, the team is back on the job after an experience that only brought them closer together.
"I'm so grateful he's OK," Nitchman said.