Freeman in town for Harvey? Witnesses say yes
Port Arthur mayoral challenger Thurman Bill Bartie says he believes that incumbent Mayor Derrick Freeman was out of town when Tropical Storm Harvey’s 60 inches of recorded rain submerged this city in August 2017.
“I think he left,” Bartie said during a short interview Thursday night, after a mayoral candidates’ forum concluded at Strong Tower Ministries, 5100 25th St.
“It’s because of something that was allegedly said on CNN. No one saw him at the Parker Center,” Bartie said.
During the forum, Freeman told the crowd of more than 100 people about his personal experience in the immediate aftermath of the storm, when Freeman’s house near 39th Street flooded and he struggled to make his way toward the Carl A. Parker Multipurpose Center, on the Lamar State College Port Arthur campus. There, people fleeing the flood reportedly were seeking shelter. He said Police Chief Patrick Melvin picked him up in a boat to transport him downtown.
Bartie expressed skepticism at the mayor’s account of what happened, and asked the crowd at Strong Tower if anyone had personally seen the mayor at the Parker Center that day. No one raised a hand.
But people contacted Friday stated they either saw the mayor making his way to the Parker Center, either in a boat or walking, and saw him arrive there.
“Yes sir, it was raining and it was flooded under the (railroad) underpass,” said Sirhan Clark, who lived near Memorial Boulevard and 17th Street. He said he was walking north on Memorial when he saw the mayor and “a couple of more guys … headed the other way.” They were riding in boat, he recounted.
“He said to be careful, and said they were setting up places for people to go,” Clark recounted Friday. “If someone said he wasn’t here, I’d have a debate on that.”
Danny Reynolds, who was making rescues of people in his personal boat, also said he saw the mayor headed toward downtown.
“I definitely saw him on Memorial. We flooded and went into town to help folks, anyone who needed it. I saw Derrick; we were traveling, I passed him and we waved.”
Freeman said he and Police Chief Patrick Melvin traveled from the mayor’s house after it flooded toward downtown first in a boat, then walked in thigh-high floodwater from Gulfway Drive to the Parker Center.
The mayor said when he arrived at the Parker Center, he saw Port Arthur Economic Development Corp. CEO Floyd Batiste sitting in his personal truck in the parking lot.
Batiste said he could not recall whether he saw the mayor; it was a frantic day, he said. But he confirmed he had made rescues with the truck and was sitting in it at the Parker Center lot that day.
Melissa Baggett, who lives in Nederland, arrived at the Parker Center on a neighbor’s truck that day. She traveled there with her parents, sister, husband, three children and a dog.
They’d left her parents home near Procter Street and Ninth Avenue in a flatboat, evacuated to a nearby church, then rode in the pickup truck to the Parker Center, she said. She turned from unloading the truck to see Freeman nearing the Parker Center doors.
Baggett said she hadn’t seen Freeman in 20 years, since the two were in high school together. But she said they remembered each other and exchanged pleasantries at the Parker Center.
“The mayor was waterlogged, as devastated as the rest of us were,” she said. “He said it was good to see me.”
She said she was certain it was the mayor.