Family, friends remember victims who died in Washington County flash flooding

Navasota resident and National Guardsman Darren Mitchell poses for a photo with his fiancé, Chertorri Johnson, and their 1-year-old daughter, Cherae.

A friend in need could always count on Darren Mitchell for help.

“It doesn’t matter how angry you are, how sad you are, how upset you are — he would find a way or something to say to make you laugh, to get you in a better mood, and he was just there for you,” said his fiancé, 21-year-old Chertorri Johnson. “He was always a go-to guy for anything. If something needed to be fixed, you could call on him. If you needed someone to talk to, you could talk to him.”

As Johnson recalled memories of Mitchell — the two would have been together two years on June 23 — she remembered his kindness and the love he had for their 1-year-old daughter, Cherae. 

“For his age, at 21, he was a rare kind of guy,” Johnson said. “I don’t feel like there was anybody our age who had the kind of work ethic that he did. He did any and everything to provide for me, and especially our daughter.”

Mitchell was one of five people who died after flash floods hit Washington County last week. Rescue crews began searching for the 21-year-old Navasota resident and National Guardsman on May 27 after his truck was found overturned near Rocky Creek, about five miles northeast of Brenham. The next morning, authorities found his body off Texas 105 and Kuykendall Creek.

Two more died after their vehicles had stalled in high water. The body of Pyarali Rajebhi Umatiya, 59, of College Station, was recovered from Yegua Creek near F.M. 50 on May 28. Jimmy Wayne Schaeffer, 49, of Brenham died May 27.

Both Umatiya and Schaeffer’s funerals were earlier this week. The funeral for 16-year-old Jarrett Russell Halfmann was Thursday. The Brenham High School honors student and athlete was killed Monday after a tree fell on him while he helped clean up debris left by last week’s deadly flooding. 

Mitchell’s funeral will be at noon Saturday at Missionary Camp Bible Church in Navasota. 

Friends of Mitchell describe him as someone whom they could always count on, whether it be to lend a helping hand when having car troubles or to flash his contagious smile when they were feeling down.

Pamela Burns got to know Mitchell once Johnson started working with her at Tender Loving Care Child-Care Central in Caldwell. Burns said he was a “superdad,” and the love he had for Johnson was clear. He would bring Johnson lunch, flowers and chocolate-covered strawberries to work — “I was wondering if he had a brother,” Burns joked — and one day surprised Johnson with a new car. 

“I remember thinking, ‘He’s a keeper,’” Burns said. 

Now when Burns sits in her car, she remembers the day Mitchell drove from Navasota to Caldwell to fix one of her windows that wouldn’t roll down. Teresa Sims, the owner of the day care where Burns and Johnson worked together, said one day her daughter’s car had broken down outside Navasota. Within 15 minutes, Mitchell was there to help. 

“He was very sweet, always helping with a smile,” said Cherlonda Johnson, Chertorri’s mother. “He always took care of my daughter and my grandbaby. Anything they needed, he was going to work to get. I just remember his smile, it was contagious.”

Though the young couple had not yet married, several of Chertorri Johnson’s relatives said Mitchell was already part of the family.

Emerson Ayers, pastor of Seven Star Missionary Baptist Church in Caldwell, said Mitchell was an “outstanding young man” who was “getting his life right,” preparing to get married and had recently been hired for a new job. “He was one of a kind,” Ayers remembered, and said he had the privilege of “leading [Mitchell] to the Lord” just three weeks prior to his death. 

Johnson said she’s also come a long way spiritually, and knows her fiancé is “watching over us and taking care of us, just like he did when he was here physically.” 

Mitchell was the ideal father, she said, even though he always said he wasn’t fond of babies or kids. As soon as their daughter — who looks just like him — was born, everything changed, she said.  

“I want her to remember and to understand how much of a good man he was, because he did stuff for me that you’d never expect at this kind of age for anybody to do,” Johnson said. “I want her to know there are men out there like that, and that her daddy was a hero in all aspects.”

A memorial fund for Mitchell has been set up at Citizen State Bank in Somerville. Donations can also be made at the branches in Brenham, Caldwell, Deanville, Navasota and Snook or by mail to P.O. Box 1145, Caldwell, TX 77836.

A funeral of another victim of the flooding is set for Saturday. Lela Holland, 64, was in her Washington, Texas, mobile home when the water rose inside her residence. She died May 26 when the flood waters overtook her home. Attempts to rescue her were not successful. 

Wilma Finley, Holland’s sister, said when she called Holland around 4 p.m. that day, Holland said she was sweeping water out of her mobile home, which is on the same land where they grew up. Finley, 68, said she’s never seen the land flood so badly, and doesn’t think her sister realized the water would rise so quickly. By about 7 p.m., Holland’s sister said the water was up to her neck. Finley said it was too late once rescue crews arrived at the home. 

Finley describes Holland as a sweet, loving lady who was also frank and to the point. Her sister loved to talk on the phone with friends, play dominoes, cook and bake cakes and spend time with her cat, Blessing. Holland, who enjoyed singing, was an active member of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where she helped with the choir and was a song leader, in addition to other projects. 

A licensed vocational nurse, she worked for numerous hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, her sister said. 

Holland’s visitation will be from 2 to 5 p.m. today at Allen Dave Funeral Home in Brenham. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Chappell Hill.

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