Photo of a car partially submerged in water on MLK Drive in Cleveland
Multiple cars were submerged in water on MLK Drive—and surrounding roads—on Sunday morning. Photo by Sgt. Paul Owens.

CWRU officers respond to flooding near campus, rescue driver

Even as Case Western Reserve continues to respond to issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, its community also contended with near-record-high waters over the weekend.

Heavy rains late Saturday into Sunday morning led the Cuyahoga River to crest at 21.62 feet, its seventh-highest mark ever, and more than 4 feet above the level the National Weather Service considers flood stage.

The results made Cleveland streets look more like rivers, and required university police to perform one rescue—and assist with another.

Headshot of CWRU Police Officer Michael Harris
Officer Michael Harris

As Case Western Reserve police patrolled in their cars before 4 a.m. Sunday, Officer Michael Harris noticed water beginning to pool in a single lane of Martin Luther King Drive south of Euclid Avenue and extending past Carnegie; given that other lanes were clear and vehicles could easily pass, Officer Harris continued on his route.

But when Officer Cassi Bowen passed the same area about a half hour later, that pooling water had become a gushing cascade quickly filling the entire road. Just opposite the Case School of Engineering buildings that face MLK Drive, Bowen spotted a stopped vehicle.

As swirling water climbed toward the top of the car’s tires, she spotted a driver inside. After contacting Officer Harris for back-up, and she began to approach.

The driver was concerned about how to get from his car to safety—and, then, to a ride back home.

“If he opened his door,” Officer Harris said, “the water was going to just completely pour in.”

Headshot of CWRU Police Officer Cassi Bowen
Officer Cassi Bowen

Working together, the two officers managed to lower the glass. With their help, the driver was able to climb out, and then reach the safety of higher ground.

From there the pair quickly turned to closing the flood doors on all of the university buildings along MLK Drive —a task that, with the help of Officer Jimiyu Edwards, took barely 30 minutes.

When they finished and went back outside, all they could see was the tallest part of the vehicle’s roof. In the absence of more rain, Bowen could barely believe how quickly the waters rose.

“It was unreal—especially because by the time I got there,” Bowen recalled, “the storm was already done.”

But the response of officers was far from finished.

Cleveland-area emergency responders had started closing roads to protect travelers, but then city police began receiving calls from residents on the lower levels of apartment buildings. Their units were filling rapidly with water, and in some cases, they had no way out.

As responders worked outside one building to remove the metal bars blocking a window that could serve as an emergency exit, Harris heard that a Cleveland police officer in the same building appeared to be in distress.

The CWRU officer immediately went to help, braving yet more rising waters.

Fortunately, his city police colleague was found uninjured.

Regardless, campus Police Corporal Rodney Jordan, supervisor for the shift, considered both officers’ conduct exemplary.

“The response of Officers Bowen and Harris to Sunday morning’s flooding is just one of many examples of the outstanding work of our team,” said Corporal Jordan said. “We are proud to work to keep Case Western Reserve, and our Cleveland community, safe.”