GREENSBURG, Kan. - Officer Robert Tim Buckman was rushing to warn rural residents about the approaching storm when the tornado swept up his squad car and flung it 300 yards into a field.
The 46-year-old officer hung on long enough for his daughter's "promise" wedding at his hospital bedside, then died of his injuries at a hospital yesterday morning, his son, Derick Buckman, told the Associated Press.
"He died being a hero," Derick Buckman said. "He was sworn to protect people, and that's what he was doing the night he got picked up by a tornado."
The tornado killed nine people in Greensburg as it obliterated the farming town Friday night, and it was blamed for another death outside town. It was classified as an enhanced F5 tornado, the most powerful level, and it stretched 1.7 miles wide with winds near 205 mph.
Derick Buckman, 25, a firefighter, said he talked with his father by phone on Friday as the storm approached and asked if help was needed for search-and-rescue efforts. His father was on his way to warn residents in two rural houses to get to safety.
"He said, 'I don't know yet, but if you can get here, get here. We'll probably need you here first,' " Buckman said.
As the cop drove, he tried to call his youngest son, who was staying with his grandparents in Great Bend.
"I'm guessing he just pushed a button on the phone," Derick Buckman said. "The last words out of his mouth that anybody heard of him before he was found were, 'I can't get away from it. It's too big. I'm screwed.' And then his phone and his police radio went dead."
A passer-by noticed the crushed police car when a bolt of lightning illuminated it in a field. The person, who stopped to help, heard Buckman groaning and called 911, Derick Buckman said.
"All I can tell you is the car was crushed like it was put in an actual crusher at a junkyard," he said. "It was that flat."
Before Buckman was removed from life support yesterday morning, he symbolically gave away his 18-year-old daughter in an unofficial wedding at his bedside, Derick Buckman said.
The family's hometown preacher presided over the ceremony for Kylee Buckman and her boyfriend, Josh Mondello, 22, Derick's best friend.