LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Tommy Hamilton and Melissa Gonzales had just tied the knot after the recent birth of their son. But less than a week after their marriage, Hamilton, 33, was killed Sunday when the family van drove into a tornado as they returned to their western Arkansas home after a Thanksgiving weekend trip.
Officials said the twister was packing winds estimated at 170 mph — strong enough to lift the van into the air and hurl it into the highway median.
Along with the baby, Hamilton had three sons from a previous marriage and Gonzales brought two girls to the union.
“It was kind of a Brady Bunch thing,” said Jerry Denton, Hamilton’s co-worker.
Gonzales, 24, was in critical condition Monday night at University Hospital in Little Rock.
The children survived, mostly with cuts and scratches, said Jonathan Davis, administrator and CEO of St. Anthony’s Medical Center in Morrilton, where the injured were originally brought.
“Most of them were alert, talking,” he said. “The mother was the only one who was in critical condition.”
The youngest child, infant James Hamilton, escaped with slight injuries. The oldest, 8-year-old Tommy Joe Hamilton, was in serious condition Monday at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock.
Seven-year-old Colleene Shores was in good condition.
Sad end to Thanksgiving weekend
The other children were sent to Children’s as a precaution but officials there had no record of Austin Hamilton, 6; Chris Hamilton, 5; Zoey Gonzales, 5, or the baby still being in the hospital late Monday.
The family had spent Thanksgiving weekend visiting the family of Hamilton’s mother in Memphis, Tenn., but never made it back to their home in Charleston in western Arkansas.
The tornado was part of a system that sent twisters ripping through Arkansas and Kansas. The same system created blizzard conditions that closed hundreds of miles of major highways across the Plains states.
Family members Monday said they were too upset to talk about the accident.
Bill Durham, who worked with Hamilton installing flooring, said Hamilton had moved from Memphis to Charleston a few years ago.
Durham said Hamilton enjoyed spending time playing ball, and going camping and fishing with his children. “He always had fun, was just real easy going,” he said.
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