Couple stuck in GR; family trapped by Houston flood

Tino Hillery, Denise Hillery
Tino Hillery and his wife, Denise. (Aug. 29, 2017)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — With her husband in the hospital in Grand Rapids, a Texas woman is watching anxiously as her family and home is surrounded by Harvey’s floodwaters.

Denise and Tino Hillery, who live in Houston, came to Grand Rapids a couple of months ago on vacation. Then, on July 6, a freak accident: As he helped a friend work on a van in a motel parking lot, Tino Hillery was crushed when the vehicle slipped off its jack.

Police on scene after a vehicle fell on a man making repairs on July 6, 2017. (Courtesy of Kimberly Downey, Complete Investigations)

“They heard a pop and turned around and the van and the jack were just kind of all tangled and Tino were just kind of tumbled into together,” Denise Hillery remembered Tuesday.

She said someone came into the room and told her to stay calm, but that was the last thing she could do as she watched an ambulance carrying her husband speed away.

He had broken ribs, bruises to his lungs, broken bones in his cervical spine and a stroke. As a result, he can’t move the right half of his body and has difficulty with speech. Doctors also removed the left bone flap of his skull because of swelling of his brain, though it was replaced a couple of weeks ago.

Now at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids, he’s still fighting to regain strength and movement. He struggled to speak as he told 24 Hour News 8 Tuesday he was “doing so-so.”

“I’m going to show my husband I’m a good wife and I’m going to be with him and I’m going to stay with him no matter what,” Denise Hillery told 24 Hour News 8.

As he’s recovering, he and his wife learned their home was destroyed. Denise Hillery’s family is trapped in Houston, which has been devastated by historic floods caused by Harvey — at its strongest a Category 4 hurricane.

Floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey flow in the Buffalo Bayou in downtown Houston, Texas, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

“My sister had to escape her home at 4 o’clock in the morning a couple of nights ago. They had four inches of water,” Denise Hillery said.

All of her family members are safe, but they can’t go anywhere because many roads are impassable.

“It’s pretty bad. And it’s still raining,” her sister told her over Facetime Tuesday.

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Denise Hillery said the situation makes her feel helpless.

“I try not to look too far into the future because our lives are just never going to be the same,” she said.

Tino Hillery is expected to be at Mary Free Bed for another three to four weeks, but his rehabilitation will continue after that. A GoFundMe account has been set up to help the Hillerys cover medical and recovery expenses.

His wife said she’s thinking about getting an apartment here until they can figure out housing back in Houston. She thinks they could end up experiencing their first Michigan winter.

“There’s just no place to go back to right now and waiting a couple of months is not going to change anything,” she said.