Deputy drowns trying to save his dog

June 11, 2010 2:37:52 PM PDT
A Harris County sheriff's deputy has been found dead after jumping into the water to save his dog overnight. It happened outside his home near Baytown in east Harris County. Deputy Eddie Wotipka, 51, drowned in a canal near West Cedar Bayou Lynchburg Road and Thompson Road while trying to rescue his dog overnight.

Deputy Wotipka had just arrived home from his evening shift as a patrol deputy in District 3 when neighbors alerted him to his dogs near the canal not far from his home. Deputy Wotipka, still wearing his uniform, went to check on the situation. That's when his own dog either fell or jumped into the water.

In an effort to save his dog, Deputy Wotipka took off his weapon and radio and jumped in the waterway. A neighbor saw him go under, come up and go under again. That's when Deputy Wotipka's wife, Karen, jumped in the water to save him.

"He took his belt off and jumped in and as he was screaming for help, his wife jumped in. I ran and got my husband and son because we couldn't help him. He already went under," said neighbor Donna Watkins.

She says it was just a few seconds before her husband ran over. He grabbed a lariat he keeps coiled in his truck and gave it to a terrified Karen Wotipka, who was clinging to the bank.

"She was scared to let go and when I finally got her to let go and put it over one arm and then the other, she was scared we would let go, and I said, 'No, we're not going to let you go,'" said neighbor Steve Watkins.

He and his son pulled Karen Wotipka to safety. Deputy Wotipka never resurfaced.

HCSO's Marine Unit and Dive Team, with help from the Houston Police Department's helicopter, arduously searched for Deputy Wotipka for several hours. Divers used an underwater camera and his body was located around 5am about 100-150 feet from where he originally jumped in. The body was swept through an underground pipe and came to rest on the other side of the canal. The body of the dog was also recovered.

Those who knew Deputy Wotipka say what he did shows exactly what type of man he was.

"It felt like somebody ripped out my guts. Honestly it's like losing a brother," said friend Robert Goerlitz.

If there was one thing Goerlitz remembers about his close friend, it would be his dedication to the job.

"That's the way he was when something popped up - he took care of it," Goerlitz said.

It's a commitment that may very well have cost the veteran officer his life.

As his family mourns, friends say they're not surprised he risked his life trying to save another.

"Just a very giving person. He would go the extra mile, go that extra step to do whatever he needed to do," said Goerlitz.

Deputy Wotipka has served with the Harris County Sheriff's Office since 1993. He worked at the east substation off Wallisville Road.

He is survived by his wife and two children, ages 24 and 26. Funeral arrangements are pending.


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