Riley Leon was driving his pickup truck home after a job interview in March 2022 when he found himself in the middle of a tornado. A storm chaser caught the instance on camera, and the video of Leon's truck being swept away by a tornado went viral.
The event kicks off a series of events across the state reminding every Texan to buckle up, according to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). Since its launch in 2002, the Texas "Click It or Ticket" initiative is estimated to have saved 6,972 lives, prevented 120,000 serious injuries, and saved $26.3 billion in related economic costs.
"Whether you’re traveling during the day or at night, a short or long distance, or as a driver or a passenger, wearing a seat belt remains the single most effective way to protect yourself from serious injury or death in a crash," TxDOT said in a press release.
Texas law enforcement officers will be looking to ticket unbelted drivers and passengers from May 23 through June 5.
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The video, shot by storm chaser Brian Emfinger of Live Storms Media, shows a red truck driving down a road in Elgin, Texas, as it gets blown over onto its side by a tornado. The truck was then spun around before getting flipped back upright onto its wheels.
Amazingly, the truck was able to drive away as the twister went on to knock down trees and power lines along the road.
The mystery driver of a red pickup truck caught on camera being thrown around in a tornado was identified as a 16-year-old junior at IDEA Rundberg High School. He tells FOX 7 Austin he is glad he made it out of that situation alive. "Seeing the video, I'm like that's me in there and I could have not been here, but thank God I am," said Riley Leon.
He says that day, he was on his way back from a job interview at a Whataburger in Elgin only 10 minutes away from his home when he encountered the dangerous weather.
"Right when I was going to take the U-turn, that's when the tornado came and lifted my truck," he said.
The truck was lifted and tossed around on its side like a piece of paper, according to Riley. Luckily, he made it out with only a few scratches on his arms.
FULL INTERVIEW BELOW:
AMANDA RUIZ: You ready, can we get your first and last name and how to spell it? You're pro by now. Can you spell it, too?
RILEY LEON: Alright. RILEY LEON
AMANDA: and then how old are you?
RILEY: I'm actually 16.
AMANDA: Talk to me. First and foremost is how are you doing?
RILEY: Physically and health, I'm doing good. Still shocked honestly by what happened but like I said to multiple reports, we have to keep going on 'cause life, life keeps going on and we cannot let ourselves get down because of a single problem.
AMANDA: You go to school around here.
RILEY: Actually I go to school in Austin.
AMANDA: Where do you go?
RILEY: IDEA Rundberg
AMANDA: Do you like it? What grade are you in?
RILEY: I'm in 11.
AMANDA: nice, talk to me. Let's first just talk about what you were doing before the tornado hit. Where were you going? What were you doing in your truck?
RILEY: I was coming back from my job interview at Whataburger. And I had missed two U-turns and so I saw that U-turn and I'm like, I'm going to take this one 'cause I can...I can see it and I don't see nothing strange around. And around right when I was going to take the U-turn, that's when the tornado coming and it lifted my truck. And that's when the infamous video of me came out
AMANDA: Did you have any idea the weather was going to be like that when you went for your job interview?
RILEY: Yes...everybody told me there like the weather's going to be bad, but I never expected it to be. I never expected that tornado be at the same moment as me and the same place.
AMANDA: Walk me through it when you're driving down and you start to feel what was going on, walk me through those feelings, what was happening?
RILEY: I was driving normally, seatbelt on, hands, hands on my driving steering wheel. And I was going. And when I saw...papers flying and I was like and the roads were empty and it's Elgin, TX. Everybody knows small, small towns like that. It's ghost towns almost, so I was driving and I was going to take the U-turn, I felt my truck lift up and it took me to a ditch and put me to my side and spin me out and that's where spinning into the road and it got on its four wheels and the video shows that I kept driving, but actually I just drove off. I drove out of the road to not cause more accidents...or cause something more, more big deal.
AMANDA: What's going through your head when you're in the truck and just like basically like a piece of paper in your truck, what are you thinking in that moment?
RILEY: My one thought...never expected to happen to me. Right?
AMANDA: When you're brought back on your wheels. What is your next thought from there?
RILEY: My next thought actually was to go home and I was like "should I drive home or should I not?" But thank God I didn't cause something worse could've happened
AMANDA: The video cuts off right when you peel off. What happens next?
RILEY: I stay there for a good minute and then a brown van comes up and that's when I start to drive and I do a turn and I parked next to him. He's like are you OK? I'm like yes, I'm OK, but I lost my phone. He was like you want to borrow my phone and call your parents and I'm like yeah and that's when I called my mom and my dad and they're like are you OK? And I'm like yeah but my truck's gone.
AMANDA: See where is the truck now?
RILEY: It's in one of my dad's friend's house in Elgin.
AMANDA: What's it look like? It's gotta be.
RILEY: Scratched, yeah, it's gone.
AMANDA: How long have you had that car for?
RILEY: Before she was born, my little sister was born. So it was family. That truck helped me and my dad get to where we are now...to see that it's gone...
AMANDA: Talk to me about this video, when you find..when you see that it that someone actually recorded that whole incident. What was going through your head when you saw that?
RILEY: I was speechless. At the same time, I was like I have proof for insurance, but most of the time I'm speechless seeing how my truck got thrown like paper. Yeah, I don't...I don't want this to happen to nobody, yeah. Wouldn't recommend it at all. And there's little alerts that there's going to be bad weather. Stay home. Don't risk your life.
AMANDA: Is that what you learned from this experience, or what did you learn?
RILEY: If anything, the number one rule, the number one thing I learned was if there's going to be bad weather, stay home. No matter, no matter how important the thing is to you, stay home. Your life, your life matters more than other stuff.
RILEY: Happy to see my little sister with my mom and my dad and my older brother here and mostly my uncles...
AMANDA: Feels good to be back and just tell me. Tell me about your injuries. I heard from your brother that it was only minor really.
RILEY: It was minor cuts on this arm and a little cut here but nothing, nothing such like huge. But yeah. Speechless, honestly.
AMANDA: Oh definitely even the people that were commenting about this. First, everyone assumes you're an adult.
RILEY: Yeah, yeah. Everything thinks I'm an adult, but in reality I'm a minor, 16-year-old that still goes to school.
AMANDA: And you went to school today. Well, this happened on Sunday, right? Or Monday, so not even two days after you're back in school.
RILEY: Gotta keep going, make my parents proud of me.
AMANDA: And your family, what was their reaction when you told them hey, I just went through this?
RILEY: They found out actually by themselves. My plan was to never…could not even tell nobody. That was actually…my plan was actually not to even go to school for this week and stay home and let people think what they want to think. But my mom...she always try to go to school and she was. Now this code so happening. Yesterday I just didn't go cause a little pain and all that, but today I went. That's cool, have to do it.
AMANDA: How’d your family find out?
RILEY: Through social media.
AMANDA: The video, and they recognized the car?
RILEY: Yeah, they saw the truck and they thought it was my dad, 'cause he's the one that mostly drives it. Until he told them it was actually me in the truck. That's when they called more...like "Thank God he's safe."
AMANDA: Perfect, anything else you want to add?
RILEY: Grateful I'm here. Grateful God gave me another chance because better things are going to come in the future. Never, never let small things bring you down, 'cause bigger things going to come.
AMANDA: I agree that was great. We have...we want to get video, just like extra video of you just watching this video and we ask you a few questions about it. Is that OK? I'm sure you're sick of this video by now....
AMANDA: Seeing the video, what's rolling through your head?
RILEY: That's me inside the truck, spinning around. And I survived it
AMANDA: Seeing the video is only a few seconds, but what did it feel like?
RILEY: I forgot, honestly. It happened so fast..... Seeing the videos online...that's me in there and I could not be here... Thank God I am...I'm here seeing my mom and dad. Happiness is not gone.
AMANDA: I'm going to have you hold the video and then he's just going to get you just playing the video behind you. It's crazy.