16-year-old who rode through Texas tornado in red pickup truck joins ‘Click It or Ticket’ campaign
AUSTIN, TX – A Texas teenager whose truck was overturned by a tornado will help celebrate the 20th anniversary of “Click it or Ticketat the Texas State Capitol.
Riley Leon was driving his van home after a job interview in March 2022 when he found himself in the middle of a tornado. A storm chaser filmed the instance and video of Leon’s truck being blown 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 has reportedly saved 6,972 lives, prevented 120,000 serious injuries, and saved $26.3 billion in related economic costs.
“Whether you are traveling day or night, short or long distance, as driver or passenger, wearing a seat belt remains the most effective way to protect yourself from serious injury or death when driving. an accident,” TxDOT said in a press release.
Texas law enforcement officers will seek to ticket unbelted drivers and passengers from May 23 through June 5.
The video, shot by Storm Chaser Brian Emfinger from Live Storms Media, shows a red truck driving down a road in Elgin, Texas as it is flipped on its side by a tornado. The truck then turned around before coming back to its feet.
Amazingly, the truck was able to drive away as the tornado downed trees and power lines along the road.
The mysterious driver of a red van filmed being thrown into a tornado has been identified as a 16-year-old junior at IDEA Rundberg Secondary School. He tells FOX 7 Austin that he’s glad he survived this situation. “Seeing the video, I’m like that’s me in there and I might not have been there, but thank God I am,” Riley Leon said.
He says that day he was returning from a job interview at a Whataburger in Elgin just 10 minutes from his home when he encountered bad weather.
“Just when I was about to turn around, that’s when the tornado came in and lifted my truck,” he said.
The truck was lifted and tossed aside like a piece of paper, according to Riley. Fortunately, he escaped with only a few scratches on his arms.
FULL INTERVIEW BELOW:
AMANDA RUIZ: Are you ready, can we get your first and last name and how to spell it? You are pro now. Can you spell it too?
RILEY LEON: Very well. RILEY LEON
ALMOND : and then how old are you?
RILY: I’m 16 actually.
ALMOND : Talk to me. First of all, how are you?
RILY: Physically and health, I’m fine. Still honestly shocked at what happened but as I’ve said in several reports we have to carry on because life, life goes on and we can’t let one single issue bring us down.
ALMOND : You go to school here.
RILY: Actually, I go to school in Austin.
ALMOND : Where are you going?
RILY: IDEA Rundberg
ALMOND : Do you like to? What class are you in?
RILY: I am in 11.
ALMOND : cool, talk to me. Let’s first talk about what you were doing before the tornado hit. Where did you go? What were you doing in your truck?
RILY: I was coming back from my job interview at Whataburger. And I had missed two U-turns and so I saw this U-turn and I was like, I’m going to take this one because I can… I can see it and I don’t see anything strange around . And about the time I was about to turn around, that’s when the tornado came and lifted my truck. And that’s where the infamous video of me came out
ALMOND : Did you know the weather was going to be like this when you went to your job interview?
RILY: Yes… everyone told me there that the weather was going to be bad, but I didn’t expect it to be. I did not expect the tornado to be at the same time as me and in the same place.
ALMOND : Explain to me when you’re driving and you start to feel what was going on, walk me through those feelings, what was going on?
RILY: I was driving normally, seat belt fastened, hands, hands on my steering wheel. And I was going. And when I saw… papers flying and I was like and the roads were empty and this is Elgin, TX. Everyone knows little, little towns like that. It’s almost ghost towns so I was driving and was about to turn around I felt my truck heave and it took me into a ditch and pulled me to my side and made me turn and that’s when I turned into the road and he got on his four wheels and the video shows that I kept driving, but actually I just drove off. I left the road so I wouldn’t cause more accidents… or cause something more, more serious.
ALMOND : What goes through your mind when you’re in the truck and, like a piece of paper in your truck, what are you thinking about at that moment?
RILY: My only thought… I didn’t expect it to happen to me. To the right?
ALMOND : When you’re back on your wheels. What’s your next thought from there?
RILY: My next thought was actually going home and I thought “should I drive home or shouldn’t I?” But thank God I didn’t cause something worse that could have happened
ALMOND : The video cuts out just as you take off. What happens next?
RILY: I stand there for a good minute then a brown van comes and that’s when I start driving and I make a turn and park next to it. He’s like are you okay? I’m like yes, I’m fine, but I lost my phone. It was like you wanna borrow my phone and call your parents and I’m like yeah and that’s when I called my mom and dad and they’re like that okay? And I’m like yeah but my truck is gone.
ALMOND : See where the truck is now?
RILY: It’s at a friend of my dad’s house in Elgin.
ALMOND : What does it look like ? It will be.
RILY: Striped, yeah, let’s go.
ALMOND : How long have you had this car?
RILY: Before he was born, my little sister was born. So it was with the family. This truck helped me and my dad get to where we are now… only to see it’s gone…
ALMOND : Tell me about this video, when you find out… when you see that someone actually recorded this whole incident. What went through your mind when you saw that?
RILY: I was speechless. At the same time, I was like I had proof of insurance, but most of the time, I’m speechless seeing how my truck was thrown away like paper. Yeah, I don’t… I don’t want that to happen to anybody, yeah. I wouldn’t recommend it at all. And there are little warnings that there is going to be bad weather. Stay at home. Don’t risk your life.
ALMOND : Did you learn from this experience, or what did you learn?
RILY: If anything, the number one rule, the number one thing I’ve learned is if it’s going to be bad weather, stay home. No matter, no matter how important it is to you, stay home. Your life, your life matters more than other things.
ALMOND : Yeah.
RILY: Happy to see my little sister with my mom and dad and my big brother here and especially my uncles…
ALMOND : It feels good to be back and tell me. Tell me about your injuries. I heard from your brother that it was really only minor.
RILY: It was minor cuts on this arm and a small cut here but nothing, nothing huge. But yes. Speechless, honestly.
ALMOND : Oh certainly even the people commenting on this. First off, everyone assumes you’re an adult.
RILY: Yeah yeah. Everyone thinks I’m an adult, but in reality I’m a 16-year-old minor still going to school.
ALMOND : And you went to school today. Well, it happened on Sunday, didn’t it? Or Monday, so not even two days after your return to school.
RILY: I have to keep going, make my parents proud of me.
ALMOND : And your family, what was their reaction when you said hey, I just went through this?
RILY: They actually discovered it on their own. My plan was to never…couldn’t even tell anyone. It was actually…my plan was actually to not even go to school this week and stay home and let people think whatever they want to think. But my mother… she was always trying to go to school and she was. Now this code goes like this. Yesterday I didn’t go, causing a little pain and all that, but today I went. That’s cool, gotta do it.
ALMOND : How did your family find out?
RILY: Through social networks.
ALMOND : The video, and they recognized the car?
RILY: Yeah, they saw the truck and they thought it was my dad, because he drives it the most. Until he told them it was actually me in the truck. That’s when they called more…like “Thank God he’s safe.”
ALMOND : Perfect, nothing else to add?
RILY: I am grateful to be there. Grateful God gave me another chance because better things will happen in the future. Never, ever let little things get you down, because bigger things are coming.
ALMOND : I agree it was great. We have…we want to get a video, just like an additional video of you watching this video and we’re asking you a few questions about it. Are you OK ? I’m sure you’re sick of this video by now….
ALMOND : Seeing the video, what goes through your mind?
RILY: It’s me inside the truck, driving in circles. And I survived it
ALMOND : Seeing the video lasts only a few seconds, but how did you feel?
RILY: I forgot, honestly. It happened so fast… Seeing the videos online… that’s me in there and I couldn’t be there… thank God I’m… I’m here to see my mom and my father. Happiness is not gone.
ALMOND : I’ll ask you to hold the video and then he’ll just play the video behind you. It’s crazy.