On April 10, 2021, Brazos River Authority plant operator Rodney Sanders was playing with his son, Landyn, at Surfside Beach when he noticed his wife, Stephanie, pointing to the water.
Sanders scanned the waves looking for what his wife was pointing at. Dolphins, maybe? Instead, he saw a man struggling to keep his head above water.
“I turned to my wife, threw my sunglasses, and said, ‘I love you,’ turned and took off into the water,” Sanders said.
A Fort Bend County man was panicking, trying to save his children from a strong riptide about 50 feet offshore. Josh Graham was successful in saving his children but then found himself too far out.
“Rodney was just one of a few people that were bold enough to run out into the ocean and do whatever they could to save this man’s life,” BRA General Manager/CEO David Collinsworth said.
When Sanders reached Graham, he wasn’t responsive, so he and volunteers performed CPR while bringing the stranger to the shore, where an ambulance transported him to a local hospital. Graham did not survive.
“His kids got stuck in that rip current,” Sanders said in the interview with KHOU 11. “Josh is the hero. He went out there. He paid the ultimate sacrifice. He gave his life for his kids.”
Sanders, too is a hero, Collinsworth said.
Collinsworth and Board Presiding Officer Cynthia Flores presented Sanders, BRA plant operator in Sugar Land, the Brazos River Authority Heart of the Brazos award during the July Board of Directors meeting. The award is for those who go above and beyond, Collinsworth said, adding it wasn’t just for people who put in overtime, traveled a lot, or completed a project.
“Folks, that’s a heroic action,” Collinsworth said. “To risk your life with your family to go out there to try and save the life of another person is just unbelievable to me. And I couldn’t be more proud of you. And I know you weren’t there with your BRA hat on, but the fact that you work for us and you’re that type of person, we just wanted to present you with this award and tell you how proud of you we are.”
Sanders was presented the award during the meeting alongside his wife and children.
Since the beach tragedy, Sanders has continued to try and bring more awareness to the risk of rip currents. He and another man that rushed into the water that day, Mike Lampson, are working with the Rescue Tube Foundation out of Hawaii to bring rescue tubes to Surfside Beach as well as other beaches around the country that do not have lifeguards on staff.
"This tragic incident has created a brotherhood between us," Sanders said. "We are turning this tragedy into something huge for the citizens of Texas and their safety around any body of water."
Sanders said he’s thankful to have had fellow BRA Sugar Land Operator Stephanie Rush-Perez at the beach with them that day. She was able to help keep his son away from the tragic event and wipe his tears while reassuring Rodney’s wife as she watched in fear that her husband would become another victim.