A Kansas police officer in a coma since he was critically injured in last week's monster F-5 tornado, survived just long enough to symbolically give his daughter away to the man she loves.
“He didn't really give me a sign that he was there. I could feel he was there. I could feel he accepted the fact this was a way he could give me away, even though he couldn't say anything to me or see me,” Kylee Buckman, 18, said Wednesday on TODAY.
Robert “Tim” Buckman, 46, suffered severe injuries when his patrol car was thrown about 300 feet by the tornado, a massive storm with winds reaching 205 m.p.h. that spread death and destruction across a track estimated to be 1.7 miles wide.
Buckman, a deputy sheriff for the Macksville Police Department, was brain dead in a coma early Tuesday when his wife and adult children made the difficult decision to have doctors turn off the machine that was helping him breathe.
But first, Kylee wanted to give her dad one last gift.
Although he did not know his youngest daughter had became engaged to her boyfriend, Josh Mondello, two weeks earlier, Buckman's family contacted their family priest and hastily arranged a bedside ceremony.
“Basically, it was just ‘I will’ vows. We planned to be married August 16,” Kylee told TODAY host Meredith Vieira. “I obviously realized my father wasn't going to be there to give me away ... We all went in there. [The priest] talked to my father. Josh and I stood on the right side of the bed. I held his hand and [the priest] read the vows to us.”
Hours later, life support was discontinued. Buckman was pronounced dead within minutes.
Kylee plans to go ahead with the official ceremony this summer, but she wanted to say the marriage vows at her father's side to let him know just how much he meant to her. It was a farewell gift to a man who gave so much in life and death.
Buckman was celebrating his parent's 50th wedding anniversary Friday night when the massive tornado approached. The first thing he did was head home to warn his family.
“He came home and I was getting ready for bed and he said, ‘Get dressed and get out of here as fast as you can. Go north,’ ” Sally Buckman, the officer's widow, said Wednesday. “I told him to be careful and that I loved him, and that was it.”
Buckman jumped in his patrol car and started spotting the storm for police dispatchers and the National Weather Service.
At some point, he realized how massive the approaching tornado was and how much peril he was in.
“He was on the highway, and he told my son, ‘My phone is about to die. I don't think I'm going to get out of this one,’ ” Sally said.
The tornado threw the patrol car 300 feet into a wheat field. A passing trucker spotted the vehicle when a lightning strike illuminated the field, and summoned help, according to an Associated Press report.
Buckman, an eight-year veteran of the Macksville force and volunteer firefighter since he was 18, suffered massive injuries to his upper body. Doctors transferred him to a trauma center in Wichita, but it became clear after several days that his condition probably would never improve.
Buckman's family faced the tough decision of terminating life support.
“It was a joint decision between the children and myself,” Sally said.
On Tuesday morning at about 7:45 a.m. CT, Buckman became the 10th person to die of injuries sustained from weekend tornadoes in Kansas.
And even in death, the police officer whose only concern Friday was for his family and community, continues to give. His eyes, liver and kidneys were harvested for donation.