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Ellicott City flood victim, mother of 10-year-old, remembered as 'full of life'

Jessica Lynn (Brubaker) Watsula died during the Ellicott City flood. "She had the best laugh I ever heard," sister-in-law Christina Brubaker said.
Jessica Lynn (Brubaker) Watsula died during the Ellicott City flood. "She had the best laugh I ever heard," sister-in-law Christina Brubaker said. (Courtesy of Curtis Brubaker / Baltimore Sun)

Jessica Watsula dropped off her 10-year-old daughter at her brother's house and drove two hours from Pennsylvania for dinner and painting Saturday in Ellicott City — a chance to share an evening with her sister-in-law and two other relatives.

As the four women left Portalli's Italian restaurant on Main Street in the historic district, a wave of floodwater began to sweep their car away, said her brother, Curtis Brubaker Jr. They got out and clung to a telephone pole as a waist-high wall of water washed over them.

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Watsula, 35, was swept away and died in the flood, one of two people killed in the worst flooding the city has seen since Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972.

Joseph Anthony Blevins, 38, of Windsor Mill, and his girlfriend were in a car caught up in the water. The woman escaped, but Blevins could not. His body was found about 8:30 a.m. Sunday, police said. Blevins' family could not be reached for comment.

Both Blevins and Watsula were found on the banks of the Patapsco River on the Baltimore County side, near where a bridge carries Ilchester Road over the river, police said.

Brubaker, who had been watching his niece, said he drove to Maryland immediately upon hearing about the flood and searched with responders for hours for his sister before identifying her body for the medical examiner after she was found around 2:20 a.m. early Sunday.

"It's going to be a rough loss," he said.

Watsula, of Lebanon, Pa., had an easy, unforgettable laugh, loved to dance and was outgoing, her family said. She and her daughter, Sarah, were inseparable, Brubaker said.

She worked in retail, he said, because the hours allowed her to spend time with her daughter.

Brubaker's wife, Christina Brubaker, who suffered bruising and cuts that required stitches in the incident, did not want to talk about flood, but she said Watsula "was was really easy to get along with, a great aunt, a great mom."

"She had the best laugh I ever heard," Christina Brubaker said.

Watsula was born and raised in Lancaster, Pa., with two older sisters and an older brother.

She was a 5-foot-1 dancer and a fitness devotee who loved hiking, camping and roasting s'mores with her daughter, her family said.

Watsula was active in her church, Living Waters Chapel, and she enjoyed country and Christian music, her family said.

They said she loved summer and the ocean, and "The Little Mermaid" was one of her favorite movies — so much so that she got her daughter into it, too.

She had dyed her hair red last week, and had texted her brother a picture to show him.

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Watsula was a hard worker, loved animals and had four pets of her own, the family said in a biographical sketch.

Her family called her a considerate sister, daughter, mother and friend who gave unusual gifts for birthdays and holidays, never something picked out at the last minute.

Curtis Brubaker Jr. called his sister an "all-around sweet girl with a big heart."

"She was full of life," he said.

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An earlier version of this article misidentified the relationship between Jessica Watsula and two of the survivors.

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