Sunday, May 20, 2018
Public safety

Two Weather Channel storm chasers crash into a third while pursuing tornado, killing all three (w/video)

A few miles west of Spur, Texas, three storm chasers died while tracking a tornado when their two vehicles collided at a rural intersection on Tuesday afternoon.

One storm chaser, driving a black Chevrolet Suburban, disregarded a stop sign and slammed into another storm chaser's black Jeep, authorities with the Texas Department of Public Safety said.

The Suburban's two occupants and the Jeep driver were pronounced dead at the scene, Sgt. John Gonzalez, a representative for the department, told Lubbock's Avalanche-Journal in a statement.

Kelley Gene Williamson, a 57-year-old storm chaser from Cassville, Mo., was driving the Suburban. Fifty-five-year-old Randall Delane Yarnall, also from Cassville, rode in the passenger seat. Storm chaser Corbin Lee Jaeger, 25, of Peoria, Ariz., drove alone in the Jeep.

"Mr. Williamson was ejected from the vehicle at the time of the crash," Gonzalez said in the statement. "Mr. Williamson was not wearing his seat belt." Both Jaeger and Yarnall wore theirs, he said. The investigation into the crash remains ongoing, according to the Department of Public Safety.

Authorities did not mention whether stormy conditions played a role, but one official confirmed to CNN that the storm chasers were following a tornado through Dickens County. A storm bringing heavy rains had passed through the area. Following reports of a twister, the National Weather Service station in Lubbock, some 60 miles from Spur, issued a tornado warning for northwestern Texas. At 3:30 p.m., the weather service took to Twitter to urge residents of Crosby County to seek immediate shelter.

"We would encourage anyone driving down these remote roads to slow down and pay attention to traffic signs especially in inclement weather. It can become dangerous for all involved," Gonzalez said, reported CBS Dallas-Fort Worth.

Williamson and Yarnall worked as contractors for the Weather Channel, which released a statement mourning the storm chasers. "This afternoon we learned that three people died in a car accident in Texas, including two contractors for the Weather Channel, Kelley Williamson and Randy Yarnall. Kelley and Randy were beloved members of the weather community. We are saddened by this loss and our deepest sympathies go out to the families and loved ones of all involved."

Storm chasers and meteorologists expressed their sympathies. "Tragedy strikes our community once again," wrote veteran storm chaser Jeff Piotrowski on Twitter, "confirming 3 storm chasers killed west of Spur TX. Now is the time to pray not share names."

After the storm chasers were identified, Missouri news station KSPR published an interview between meteorologist Kevin Lighty and Williamson, discussing the dangers of storm chasing. "People ask what we do, well, we track weather, tornadoes for the Weather Channel you know," Williamson told Lighty. "About 50-50. Some people says you're crazy and the other half says — I want to go with you."

Williamson said he was aware of the risk that storm chasers posed to each other. "The biggest danger out there is the other chasers and the Grandma that's trying to get her kids," Williamson said. "You know, you've got to watch out for everybody out there, and then the storms come secondary."

Fatalities in the field are rare. In the decades since the first death, when a University of Oklahoma meteorology student's car swerved off the road in 1984, the few storm chasers who died perished in automobile accidents. No tornado killed a storm chaser until 2013 when a massive twister mortally struck four, one amateur storm chaser and three veterans of the field.

A few storm chasers predicted that deaths would continue. "Yes, more chasers will die in tornadoes (or be killed in vehicle crashes while chasing). That seems inevitable," storm chaser and retired NWS meteorologist Charles Doswell told The Washington Post in May. "What's gratifying is how uncommon it's been."

The three deaths in Texas on Tuesday came at a time when the storm chasing community had already been subject to scrutiny, in part fueled by thrill-seeking chasers who shared "tornado selfies" and other risky exploits on social media.

But storm chaser and Washington Post Capital Weather Gang forecaster/photographer Ian Livingston argued that recklessness was not the norm. He wrote in June, "there are many misconceptions about storm chasing that need to be set straight. The plains are not overrun by storm-chasing caravans every spring. There are not thousands of cars on the road preventing first responders from doing their jobs. We do not do it for the money. We do not disrupt local residents' lives."

 
Comments
Burglary suspect jumps into Hillsborough canal to escape deputies, officials say

Burglary suspect jumps into Hillsborough canal to escape deputies, officials say

TAMPA — After a botched burglary, a fleeing suspect jumped into a canal to escape deputies Saturday afternoon, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.The person has not yet been identified. The suspect tried to break into a business on...
Published: 05/19/18
Cuba: 110 died in plane crash, 3 survivors ‘critical’

Cuba: 110 died in plane crash, 3 survivors ‘critical’

HAVANA — The only three survivors of Cuba’s worst aviation disaster in three decades were clinging to life Saturday, a day after their passenger jet crashed in a fireball in Havana’s rural outskirts with 113 people on board. In the first official dea...
Published: 05/19/18
He lured young men looking for weed. Their bodies turned up in a pig roaster.

He lured young men looking for weed. Their bodies turned up in a pig roaster.

Cosmo DiNardo declared "I am a savage no explanation needed" on social media seven months before police say he lured four young men to his family’s farm, shot them to death, ran one of them over with a backhoe and dumped three of their bodies in a pi...
Published: 05/19/18
Off-duty Largo firefighter arrested on DUI charge

Off-duty Largo firefighter arrested on DUI charge

DUNEDIN — Pinellas County sheriff’s deputies arrested an off-duty Largo firefighter found asleep at the wheel shortly after 4 a.m. Saturday.Patrol deputies saw a 2013 Dodge Dart, facing west and stopped in the intersection of Main Street and Bass Bou...
Published: 05/19/18
After Texas school shooting, Tampa Bay officials will step up security

After Texas school shooting, Tampa Bay officials will step up security

Hours after Friday’s deadly school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, bay area law enforcement officials pledged to beef up school security for the last remaining days of the school year.Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister held a news conference late Frid...
Published: 05/18/18
Largo police seek person of interest linked to missing man

Largo police seek person of interest linked to missing man

LARGO — Police are searching for a person of interest in the January disappearance of a 24-year-old man.The missing man is Timothy Patrick Cullen, 24, who Largo police said was last seen Jan. 22 at his home in the 500 block of Seventh Ave NE. His veh...
Published: 05/18/18
Pasco man accused of abusing 3-month-old infant

Pasco man accused of abusing 3-month-old infant

BAYONET POINT — A 26-year-old man was arrested Thursday on a charge of aggravated child abuse and accused of fracturing an infant’s skull, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.Brandon Scott Madrishin told deputies that a 3-month-old infant ...
Published: 05/18/18
20 years later, Hank Earl Carr’s victims are still loved and remembered

20 years later, Hank Earl Carr’s victims are still loved and remembered

When her school bus pulled up to her house that day, Ashley Bell spotted her mom’s car in the driveway and wondered why it was there. A 14-year-old latchkey kid, Bell usually got home before her mother Carolyn arrived from her job as a nurse at St. J...
Published: 05/18/18
Teen held in Texas attack is said to have used father’s guns

Teen held in Texas attack is said to have used father’s guns

SANTA FE, Texas — The Texas student charged in the school shooting at Santa Fe High School posted an image on Facebook of himself wearing a "Born to Kill" shirt and used his father’s shotgun and pistol in the attack that left 10 dead and 10 wounded, ...
Published: 05/18/18
Gunman opens fire in Texas high school, killing 10 people

Gunman opens fire in Texas high school, killing 10 people

SANTA FE, Texas — A 17-year-old carrying a shotgun and a revolver opened fire at a Houston-area high school Friday, killing 10 people, most of them students, authorities said. It was the nation’s deadliest such attack since the massacre in Florida th...
Published: 05/18/18