Lessons Learned: How the deadly floods took the life of a Des Moines icon

Local News

DES MOINES – Floods changed the lives of hundreds of families in the Des Moines area. Many houses were completely destroyed. Some being bought out by the City of Des Moines and torn down. The floods of 2018 also proved deadly, killing one person. That person was Larry Cotlar, the voice of the Drake Bulldogs. Local 5’s Lou Sipolt sat down with Cotlar’s wife, Deb Brewer-Cotlar. She remembers as their car got swept away that night and people telling them to hold on.

“You know, as a guy who was a part time umpire, that’d be a hard call to make it. It’s been hard Lou, there have not only been physical scars. But then there are the emotional scars that I still fight with today. We all know what happened when Larry was taken from us. But a lot of people might not realize that you came very close to being taken from us as well. But we were trying to come home from the menace game. I was supposed to sing the national anthem. But the weather, as we all know, turned just horrible. And I looked up at the sky, and it was right before it started to rain. And I told Larry, I said we should try and get home. And we made it to Merle Hay mall. We picked up a few items. And then every every street was blocked. He said, Well, I think we can make it. And as soon as we made that turn, the water caught a car. Little did we know it ended up sweeping that car over a curb. Otherwise, we probably would have been, you know, fine. But he was on the phone to 911. I was on the phone Zachary had called because our basement it started flooding that night. And he had told the operator that the car was beginning to flood and she told us to get out. There was a young couple that had come over to my side of the window. And I told them that we were just as soon as he hung up, we were getting out of the car, we accident on his side, we were able to make it across the street to the parking and then the force of the water took me down first, and then him and it then eventually just I couldn’t keep my grip on to him. And I was swept over first. He called my name three times. And that was the last thing I heard. I made the assumption that he was somehow able to fight the force of the water because I never heard him. I never saw him. I think the only thing that saved my life was I was swept over to the left into a grove of trees and hung on to a limb there. Couple of limbs, I tried to wrap myself around the tree, the water took me under a couple of times and then swept me down a little further. And then I could see a light. So I always call this young man my angel that God sent. He was across the ravine but hadn’t made his way over to to my side, which was the west side. And there were the other neighbor on that side had thrown down a garden hose. And the young man had said to me, trust me, you need to let go, I promise I will catch you to which he did. And then by that time, I just I had no energy. But he said, you know you’ve got to try the waters coming. And so with his help, I was able to scamper up the hill and to safety. So I just always call him my angel and the neighborhood the the neighbors came and brought me blankets and kept me as warm as they could. Our neighbor, who Zachary had gone to when the basement was flooding came and got me and took me back home. Because I was just you know. And he said you need to come home and take a shower. And so I did. And then by the time I got back, which was think a little after one o’clock in the morning, somewhere around there. That was when he found his body. And then I later found out I was I’ve been able to talk with the fire department and the firefighters. And they told me that when they found Larry, they treated him with much dignity and respect, which is all that I could ask. No, I mean, we’re always excited because it’s a brand new start. everybody’s excited because hey, nobody’s won or lost the game yet and and there’s always optimism.”

Our coverage as we look back at the floods of 2018 culminates in a 30-minute special this Sunday. We’ll premiere our We Are Iowa Original Documentary. You can watch that this Sunday night at 8 on weareiowa.com. Stephanie Angelson will be hosting it with stories from Local 5’s Jacob Peklo and our team of Local 5 photojournalists.

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