CASHION — Billy Leeper and his wife, Pamela, were trying to get to shelter last week when a tornado bore down on their mobile home near Cashion.
As their son, Codey, sped down the road to check on them, he hoped his parents would be gone. But when he pulled up to their home, he saw his dad trying to lift his mom, who has a degenerative back disorder, into their truck.
A few seconds later, their trailer exploded.
Billy Leeper, 63, threw his body over his wife's to try to shield her.
That's the last thing Codey Leeper, 29, saw through his pickup window as debris started to rain down on him.
The storm knocked Billy and Pamela Leeper to the ground as it lifted their truck and dropped the vehicle on top of their son's. Then it lifted the truck again and threw it about 35 feet, Codey Leeper said.
Two other vehicles and a trailer landed on top of his truck, crushing him and his dog against the floorboards.
When the storm passed, Codey Leeper crawled out of his crushed truck.
His dad was dead, but his mom survived.
Pamela Leeper was released from the hospital Monday night. She has about 27 staples in her head, staples on her arm and scrapes and bruises all over her body, her son said. But that's nothing compared to the emotional toll.
She lost her husband of 31 years. She also lost two mobile homes and several vehicles during the tornado. Her five Chihuahuas survived.
Family members said they weren't surprised Billy Leeper, who most knew as B.J., sacrificed his life to protect his wife.
“That's the kind of man he was,” Codey Leeper said. “He's a hero to me and a hero to all of us.”
A Vietnam War veteran, Billy Leeper was a blunt man who was willing to help anyone who needed it, family members said. Most people loved him, and everyone knew where he stood, his son said.
“You didn't have to worry about him holding anything back,” Codey Leeper said, adding that his dad was his best friend.
Billy Leeper loved fishing, deer hunting, fixing cars and spending time with his three children and five grandchildren, ages 3 to 14. He worked as a construction supervisor for Vanguard Properties, said daughter Alicia Leeper, 27.
Alicia Leeper said her dad loved telling stories. One he told often was about the time he took one of his granddaughters fishing for the first time. Instead of reeling the fish in, she turned around and ran with the pole.
Alicia Leeper said her father's act of heroism last week was part of his nature.
“It was in his heart,” she said.
The family held a memorial service for Billy Leeper on Tuesday. Burial will be at a later date at Fort Sill National Cemetery in Elgin.