WHO: Sixteen-year-old Riley Leon from Elgin, and a Chevy dealer in Fort Worth.
WHAT: A terrifying run-in with a tornado, followed by an outpouring of community support.
WHY IT’S SO GREAT: On March 21, at least five tornadoes touched down in Central Texas. The rare storms injured about a dozen people and wrecked property in Round Rock, Elgin, Giddings, and other parts of the region—though, somehow, no lives were lost in the destruction. (Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell called it a miracle.) Perhaps the most stunning footage of the incredible nature of the event was a dramatic video captured by freelance storm chaser Brian Emfinger. You’ve probably seen it, but if not, take a look:
In the video, a red Chevy pickup is blown onto its side by a massive gust of wind, then gets turned back upright; then the driver steps on the gas, pulling away from the storm and hightailing it to safety.
After the video went viral, we learned more about the driver of the truck. He’s eleventh-grader Riley Leon, and he ran into the storm on his way home from a job interview at Whataburger. Leon’s behind-the-wheel heroics are incredible—Dominic Toretto wishes he were this kid—but the consequences of encountering such a storm aren’t the stuff of Hollywood. His truck was totaled, leaving him with no transportation to school (or to the job at Whataburger), and his family doesn’t have health insurance, which is a problem because our bodies aren’t built for getting slammed around by a tornado while you’re belted into your pickup. According to an update posted by Bianca Jaimes, a teacher at the IDEA Rundberg public school Leon attends, he fractured his spine during the incident and may require surgery.
Jaimes set up a GoFundMe account to help Leon’s family pay the medical bills—and potentially replace his truck—and quickly found support from the community that marveled at his feat as a motorist. In less than a week, the fundraiser took in $42,000. And Leon doesn’t have to worry about paying for a truck out of that: Fort Worth–based Bruce Lowrie Chevrolet offered him a 2022 Silverado LT All Star Edition as a replacement, along with $15,000 to help cover additional expenses (taxes on the truck, which has an MSRP of around $48,000, will eat up a chunk of that). In all, the support ought to relieve some financial pressure on a young man who braved a tornado to get to a job interview. “I’m very grateful,” Leon told NBC DFW at the dealership. “That was my first time being in a tornado, and hopefully it’s my last time.”
And as for the job? Leon got it—though let’s hope the support he received from the community will allow him time to recover from his injuries before he starts putting in shifts under the orange and white stripes.