Former Waco Police Chief Brent Stroman postponed his retirement to guide the department through a tsunami of controversy spawned by the May 2015 Twin Peaks shootout and mass arrests of 177 bikers.
This year, a year into his retirement, Stroman helped a different department recover from another kind of storm when he accepted the interim police chief position in the coastal town of Ingleside a week before Hurricane Harvey brought 140 mph winds and record rainfall to the Gulf Coast.
Harvey wasn’t even visible on weather radars when Ingleside City Manager Melissa Vossmer called Stroman in early August to see if he would take the job, possibly for up to six months.
Stroman, 63, retired as Waco police chief in August 2016 after a 39-year career with the department. He and his wife traveled to Boston and Tennessee, remodeled their home and took care of a few matters on his family’s farm near Sweetwater in the year after his retirement.
He was not really looking for a job when Vossmer, who served as Waco assistant city manager from 1989 to 1998, called to see if he would fill the interim chief’s position.
Stroman was a sergeant when Vossmer worked in Waco and said he always admired her and wanted to work for her. By the time he got to Ingleside, a town of 10,000 people just on the other side of the bay from Corpus Christi, Harvey was a tropical storm.
“The storm formed very quickly, and they were saying, depending on what weather pattern you looked at, it might come our way,” Vossmer said. “There had not been a hurricane in this area since the ’60s, so on Tuesday, we pulled out the hurricane plan and did what needed to be done, and by Thursday, we were having mandatory evacuations. It was a very challenging event for the Coastal Bend area and the city of Ingleside. It came very fast and didn’t give us much time to prepare.”
Stroman had been at work about a week when Harvey made U.S. landfall Aug. 25 at Rockport, about 17 miles northeast of Ingleside. Because of the predictions about the size and severity of the storm, Rockport police and emergency management officials decided to ride out the storm at the San Patricio County Sheriff’s Office in Sinton, about 27 miles west of Ingleside.
Like many of the others, Stroman said he had not experienced a hurricane before. As he and others were taking shelter at the Sinton sheriff’s office, he said he looked out a doorway and saw a muddy, wet Chihuahua mix being tossed around in the wind. Stroman rescued the dog and brought him inside.
“As soon as the others saw that dog, they grabbed him and he went to the back somewhere,” Stroman said. “That was the last time I saw the dog. They started playing with him. I think people were looking for something to distract them during the storm. They named him Harvey.”
Stroman caught a few quick naps here and there over the next three days, but essentially, he and others went without sleep.
During the night, he got a report that a family tried to seek shelter in a school in Ingleside and were trapped by a collapsed roof. They weren’t supposed to be in the school, but Stroman and the emergency management director headed out at 6 a.m. the next morning to check on the family.
“He drove his truck and I had my police vehicle and the only other vehicle outside was a red Suburban,” Stroman said. “That turned out to be a CNN news crew trying to find their way to Rockport. But it was pitch black. There was no power and there was just this uneasy, odd feeling to come back into town and see things torn up. There was nobody out, power lines on the street and debris all over the place, not even any animals out and about. It was just a very strange, eerie feeling.”
There were no signs of the family at the school. Stroman found out later they were in the school but got out safely.
For the next three days, Stroman and others camped out at the Ingleside Police Department while maintaining regular patrols of the city. Stroman said he was impressed with how city staff, state agencies and others pulled together to respond to the storm. He said there were 30 Department of Public Safety troopers in Ingleside within 24 hours to help with the disaster response, enforce curfews, watch for looters and help pass out donated items.
“They left their families and their homes to come and provided literally 24-hour service for several days without regard to their own personal lives,” Stroman said. “It was just phenomenal. The employees of the police department went above and beyond anything that was ever asked of them and they continued to provide service even though they had been significantly impacted by the storm.”
Stroman had been staying in an apartment in Rockport, which he found out about three days later had been destroyed. He had to force his way through a broken door and debris to get into the apartment so he could collect his personal belongings, which he carried around in his police vehicle for days.
Stroman’s wife finally found a place for him to stay in Mathis, about 40 miles from Corpus Christi.
Stroman said there was not flooding in Ingleside like other places, but the heavy winds caused a lot of damage there. He said it took about three weeks for the town to return to a sense of normalcy.
“I will never forget looking down Main Street and just seeing these lines of power trucks lined up putting utility poles in place. I had never seen anything like that before,” Stroman said.
Vossmer said she is thankful someone with Stroman’s experience was available to help lead the city through the difficult time.
“You don’t come up in the ranks and serve as police chief in a city the size of Waco unless you are good at what you do,” she said. “His place to stay was totaled, and he was homeless for a while. We were all sleeping where we could. He stuck it out. He is such a good man, very professional, very down-to-earth. He is just basically unflappable, and that helped in the situation we found ourselves in. He brought a great attitude and brought an element of stability and confidence, and he fit right in with the team. It was one of those lifetime experiences that you will remember forever.”
Kenneth Jenks, from Ana, will start as the new chief in Ingleside later this month. Stroman will hang around to help with the transition and then he said he will “re-retire” and get back to the things on his to-do list that he hasn’t gotten around to yet.