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Texas tornado totals teen’s truck; Chevrolet gives him a new one

Riley Leon’s red truck rolled over and was spun 360 degrees by a tornado in Elgin, Tex. Viral storm chaser video captured the incident.

It’s probably the viral tornado video of the year. On Monday, as vicious storms tore through Texas, a twister near Austin flipped the red pickup truck driven by a Texas teen on its side. The raging winds then spun the truck 360 degrees before flipping it back onto its four wheels. The driver, 16-year-old Riley Leon, managed to drive away with only minor injuries.

While the truck fully functioned after the traumatic encounter, Leon told local media that his family’s Chevrolet Silverado was totaled. Now Chevrolet is giving Leon a new 2022 Silverado, free of charge.

“Chevrolet, together with Bruce Lowrie Chevrolet of Fort Worth, TX, are donating a 2022 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT All Star Edition in Cherry Red to Riley Leon and his family after he survived a powerful tornado while driving in his Silverado,” Chevrolet posted to Facebook Thursday. “We are thankful Riley is safe, commend his driving skills during a frightening situation, and our hearts are with other families in Texas that have been affected by these storms.”

Video of the truck’s encounter with the tornado, which occurred in Elgin, Tex., about 20 miles east of Austin, has been viewed 8.5 million times on Facebook. The footage was captured by storm chaser Brian Emfinger.

“It certainly is one of most remarkable videos I’ve seen,” Tim Marshall, a meteorologist and engineer who surveys tornado damage, wrote in an email. Marshall has also been a storm chaser for 40 years.

After the incident occurred, a storm chaser was apparently the first to assist Leon.

“I helped the kid and let him use my phone to call his parents, he was about 16-17 and got away with just a cut on his arm,” tweeted chaser Marcus Reynolds.

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Austin TV affiliate KXAN reported that another bystander, Ruben Briones, also came to help. “He was in shock; he was crying,” Briones told KXAN.

Photos of the truck showed it heavily scraped, dented and damaged. “All of the glass was broken out of his truck,” Reynolds tweeted.

Leon could not be reached for this story. In an interview with FOX7 Austin on Wednesday, Leon said he’s “doing good.” He explained that he got caught in the storm on his way home from a job interview at Whataburger after missing two U-turns and just before he was about to attempt another.

“[A]round right when I was going to take the U-turn, that’s when the tornado was coming and it lifted my truck,” he told the station. “I felt my truck lift up, and it took me to a ditch and put me to my side and spin me out.”

Leon was traveling along U.S. 290.

As the tornado was lifting the truck, “I honestly didn’t know what to do, to grab onto the steering wheel or to start praying,” he told Dallas’s NBC affiliate in a separate interview.

After viewing the video of the incident, Leon told FOX7 Austin that he was “speechless.” He also said that he’s “grateful” to have survived.

Marshall wrote Leon was “very lucky” not to have been seriously injured or worse. “I’ve seen strong tornadoes loft and mangle trucks,” Marshall wrote.

Although initial reports indicated Leon only was scraped on the arm by the incident, a GoFundMe set up on his behalf says he has since “begun to experience body aches and severe back pain” and that his family does not have health insurance. The GoFundMe was started a by a school nurse at Leon’s high school, FOX7 reported Friday.

Multiple tornadoes touched down across central Texas on March 21, damaging several homes in the Austin suburbs Round Rock and Elgin. (Video: The Washington Post)

The tornado that flipped Leon’s truck was rated EF-2 on the 0 to 5 Enhanced Fujita scale for tornado intensity, according to the National Weather Service forecast office serving the area around Austin and San Antonio. Its peak winds were estimated at 130 mph along a 12.1-mile path. The twister was as wide as 500 yards, damaged 109 residences and caused three injuries.