Environment / Nature

Residents and pets rescued along Lovers Lane

A joint task force made up of sheriff’s deputies, Hollister Police, CalFire, and county Search and Rescue brought dozens of residents out of the flooded area.
Sergeant Bryan Penny and Detective Kevin Burley (driving) of the Sheriff's Department took BenitoLink into the Lovers Lane area Jan. 10, 2023. Photo by John Chadwell.
Sergeant Bryan Penny and Detective Kevin Burley (driving) of the Sheriff's Department took BenitoLink into the Lovers Lane area Jan. 10, 2023. Photo by John Chadwell.
San Felipe Road closed because of flooding. Photo by John Chadwell.
San Felipe Road closed because of flooding. Photo by John Chadwell.
Rescue workers marked homes that had been notified of pending evacuation with yellow tape. Photo by John Chadwell.
Rescue workers marked homes that had been notified of pending evacuation with yellow tape. Photo by John Chadwell.

What a difference 24 hours can make, especially in the level of flood waters that surged through north San Benito County, particularly in the Lovers Lane area. On Jan. 10, Sergeant Bryan Penny and Detective Kevin Burley with the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office took BenitoLink on a ride-along to see the damage from the floodwaters that raged over the levees along Pacheco Creek and through the surrounding neighborhoods beginning Jan. 8.

They said in the 24 hours since they began rescue operations Jan. 8, the water had receded nearly four feet in some areas.

Along with sheriff’s deputies, they said the county’s 20-member all-volunteer Search and Rescue unit, the Hollister Police Department, and Cal Fire participated in the operation.

According to Undersheriff Tom Keylon, co-commander of the taskforce staged along Fairview Road on Jan 6, several Nixle and reverse 911 warnings were issued throughout the night via texts and emails as they also went house to house on Lovers Lane, Lake and San Felipe roads warning residents to be prepared to evacuate. Residents were told they could go to the Veterans Memorial Building in Hollister.

Penny and Burley said nearly 100 residents of the area were warned of potential flooding.

“We told them if the levee was compromised there would be some very fast flooding and we recommended they either leave then or make arrangements for the impact,” Penny said. “A lot of people did not leave. We attempted evacuations along Lovers Lane and surrounding areas. Search and Rescue assisted us with blocking roads and evacuating 23 people using a former military vehicle called an MRAP [Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected]. Twenty-five people refused to leave.”

Penny said a number of dogs were also rescued. He said they did not have the capability to rescue larger animals. Burley, who was driving the MRAP, along with Sheriff’s Commander Sylvester Urena, and other deputies conducted several water-rescues that day.

“The water was waist-high in some areas where we were getting off the vehicle to go into the homes to rescue the people,” Burley said, adding there were no calls for assistance on Jan. 9.

Burly also said three teams from the Sheriff’s Investigation Unit were tasked to go into the San Benito River to warn homeless individuals living there of the need to leave. He said no one left.

As we drove down the now mostly dry Lovers Lane, Burly said the day before deep water was flowing rapidly across the road. He pointed out where yellow tape had been placed in front of homes to let others know that the residents had been notified about the need to evacuate. Stopping in front of one home, he said a woman had refused to leave even though her husband had chosen to do so. At another deserted house he said they found two Rottweilers.

“One was treading water and when we got there, he was exhausted,” he said. “We were able to save him.”

At another house Burly said the current on Jan. 9 was intense and rescuers had to use ropes and life jackets to search inside it. He said seven or eight people were stranded on a small bridge crossing over Pacheco Creek as water flowed on both sides, trapping them.

“We left them for last because they were safe on the bridge,” he said, adding that he drove the MRAP down a side road off Lovers Lane to rescue two women and four children, ages seven to a newborn. At the end of the same road, he said the team rescued five Australian shepherds outside an empty two-story home.

“Our deputies had to get out and put them upstairs,” he said.

As more rain is being forecast over the following days, Burly said everyone remains on standby, waiting to be called.

“We’re trying to stay at work as long as we can,” Penny said. “We sleep with our phones beside us, and clothes hung up nearby, ready to go.”

Penny added that from the onset of the flooding it quickly became apparent that the county was on its own.

“We were made aware very quickly that we did not have any outside support,” he said. “With all the road closures San Benito County became an island.”

On Jan. 8, President Joe Biden declared an emergency in California, authorizing FEMA disaster relief. San Benito County was not listed to receive any assistance. BenitoLink did not receive a response before publication from the San Benito County Office of Emergency Services, concerning the extent, if any, of damage to the levee, or if any FEMA funding would be coming to the county.



The Community Foundation for San Benito County announced it opened a Disaster Recovery Fund to aid community members experiencing hardships related to the storm conditions and flooding.

The fund is dedicated to providing relief to those in the county affected by local disasters, including floods, fire, earthquakes, and more.

Gifts to the San Benito Disaster Recovery Fund can be made through the Foundation’s website, or mailed to the Community Foundation.

For more information call the Community Foundation at 831-630-1924.

Gary Byrne, president and CEO of the Community Foundation, said the application process and how funds will be distributed have not be finalized and that in the past they have worked with the Hollister Fire Department and the Red Cross to get funds where they needed to be. He added the Foundation will also apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and funding from the State.

Authorities are sending residents who evacuate their homes because of flooding to the Veterans Memorial Building located in Hollister at649 San Benito Street.

Agencies responding to flooding include:

Sandbags are be available to residents on a self-serve basis for localized flooding emergencies. These items are on a first come first serve basis. A pile of sand and burlaps bags will be located at the following locations:

  • Hollister Airport- 60 Airport Drive, Hollister
  • Hollister Fire Station 2- 1000 Union Road, Hollister
  • County Yard- 3220 Southside Road, Hollister
  • San Juan Bautista City Yard- Jefferson & First Streets, San Juan Bautista
  • Aromas Tri-County Fire Protection Dist.- 492 Carpenteria Rd, Aromas
For road conditions residents can get information here.

Video by Justin Tobin used with permission:





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John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist. He has many years' experiences as a photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]