"He died being a hero."
By ROXANA HEGEMAN, Associated Press Writer
Officer Down: Robert Timothy Buckman
GREENSBURG, Kan. — Officer Robert Tim Buckman was rushing to warn rural residents of the approaching storm that had just destroyed Greensburg when the tornado crushed his squad car flung it 300 yards into a field.
Buckman, 46, was critically injured and declared dead Tuesday morning, his son, Derick Buckman, told The Associated Press. He became the 10th person to die in Greensburg from the tornado that nearly obliterated the farming town Friday night.
"He died being a hero," Derick Buckman said. "He was sworn to protect people and that's what he was doing the night he got picked up by a tornado."
During his final hours, Buckman's 18-year-old daughter got married at his bedside, Derick Buckman said. The family's hometown preacher officiated.
"He was there with his daughter to give her away," said Derick Buckman, a 25-year-old firefighter.
The same day Buckman died, his son-in-law, Army Pfc. Seth Cole, was scheduled to deploy for Iraq. Cole said his commanders at Fort Stewart in southeast Georgia denied him leave to be with his wife and her family.
"According to them, they have enough support in her family that one more person isn't really going to matter, even though my kids are there and they're asking for me," said Cole, a radar operator with the 1st Battalion, 9th Field Artillery Regiment.
Cole -- who has three daughters, ages 8, 7 and 4 -- spoke to The Associated Press by phone from his billet at Fort Stewart as he packed his bag for the flight to Iraq.
Army officials in Georgia did not immediately comment.
Derick Buckman said he talked with his father by phone Friday evening after hearing about the destruction in Greensburg and asked his father if help was needed for search-and-rescue efforts.
"He said, 'I don't know yet, but if you can get here, get here. We'll probably need you here first,'" Derick Buckman said.
Robert Buckman was on his way to warn residents in two rural houses to get to safety when he tried to call his youngest son, who was staying with his grandparents in Great Bend.
"I'm guessing he just pushed a button on the phone," Derick Buckman said. "The last words out of his mouth that anybody heard of him before he was found were, 'I can't get away from it. It's too big. I'm screwed.' And then his phone and his police radio went dead."
A passer-by noticed the crushed police car when a bolt of lightning illuminated it in a field and stopped to help. The person heard Buckman groaning and called 911, Derick Buckman said.
"All I can tell you is the car was crushed like it was put in an actual crusher at a junkyard," he said. "It was that flat."
The rural residents Robert Buckman was trying to warn were unharmed, his son said.
"The night he died, he was doing what he had to do," he said. "He died a hero, and I can't be more proud."
Associated Press writers David Twiddy, Heather Hollingsworth and Dick Kelsey in Kansas City, Mo., and Russ Bynum in Savannah, Ga., contributed to this report.
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