The three storm chasers pursued the raging tornadoes for years. When others fled, they drove closer to the spinning winds.
That’s what they were doing Tuesday, when their two cars rammed into each other 5 miles west of the Texas city of Spur. All three men died, officials said.
The incident happened when a black Suburban traveling north ran through a stop sign and collided with a Jeep traveling west, according to Sgt. John Gonzalez of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Kelley Gene Williamson, 57, of Cassville, Missouri, was driving the Suburban. The passenger was his friend and fellow storm chaser, Randall Delane Yarnall, 55, also of Cassville.
The Jeep’s driver was Corbin Lee Jaeger, 25, of Peoria, Arizona. While he was pursuing the same tornado, it’s unclear whether he was with the two men. All three were chasing a tornado in Dickens County, Lt. Bryan Witt said.
Authorities said Williamson was not wearing his seat belt and was ejected from the vehicle. Yarnall and Jaeger had on their seat belts.
Williamson and Yarnall were contractors for the Weather Channel, where their show Storm Wranglers aired.
“We are saddened by this loss and our deepest sympathies go out to the families and loved ones of all involved,” the Weather Channel said.
Friends said Yarnall and Williamson had known each other since elementary school, and worked for Stormviewlive, which provides live videos and confirms tornado sightings for weather companies.
Cary Meltzer, 38, of New York, said he knew the two men in the Suburban. He described Williamson as “fearless.”
“He was a professional bullfighter before he was a storm chaser. You got to be a little fearless to do that,” he said of Williamson.
When Williamson was not out chasing storms, he raised chickens at a farm in Cassville.
‘People are going to feel this one’
Williamson had chased storms for about five years, and started after his wife’s van was flipped by a tornado. She was shaken up, but alive, Meltzer said.
He talked about the incident a lot, and said it got him into chasing tornadoes, Meltzer said.
Williamson’s hobby got him a spot on the Weather Channel about two years ago, where he asked Yarnall to join him.
“Such a nice guy, would give you the shirt off his back,” Meltzer said of Yarnall. “It’s going to be the biggest loss. People are going to feel this one. They were very well-respected and very well-liked.”
Billy Wade, who knew all the three men, said the storm-chasing community is close-knit . So much so, he had just talked to Yarnall not too long ago.
“I just spoke to him a week and a half ago,” he said. “We had plans for him to visit so I could teach him some photography skills.”
Wade also knew Jaeger, whom he described as smart and intelligent.
“He is a monsoon chaser, but would come to the plains to chase storms,” he said.
Wade was especially close to Williamson, who would have been a groomsman at his wedding.
“I know he will still be at my wedding in spirit,” Wade said.