When Kevin Wilkerson awoke to discover his York City home filled with smoke and flames, he did what he always did, according to his brother -- he put his family first.
He woke them up, jumped out a second-story window and caught his sister's three children one by one as their father dropped them 12 feet to Wilkerson's waiting arms. His niece was 7 months old at the time; his twin nephews were 2 years old.
Wilkerson then ran back inside but was unable to save his mother, Tia Smith. She died inside their burning East Cottage Place home on Oct. 24, 2010.
Eighteen months later, he joined his mother.
Wilkerson, 25, of Locust Avenue in Newberry Township, died Thursday at the scene of a 10:55 p.m.
Family first: "He always had the family's best interests in mind, rather than his own," said his brother, Scott Wilkerson, 26, of Bangor, Wash. "He was more than I could've asked for in a brother. He put family first."
Kevin Wilkerson loved music, whether he was listening to it, playing his guitar or writing rap songs, his brother said.
But he didn't have much free time to spend on hobbies.
"In the last few months all he's really done is take care of the family and work," Scott Wilkerson said.
Kevin Wilkerson has a young daughter, Sabrina, who lives in the State College area, according to loved ones.
He also worked hard to help provide for the children of his sister, Jacquelyn Wilkerson. It was her children he saved from the blaze, and she has since had fourth child, according to Scott Wilkerson.
"(Kevin's death) has shattered my sister completely," he said. "Me, I'm trying to hang on. I have to -- I'm the oldest."
A 'champ': The responsibility was hard on the 25-year-old man, his brother said.
"He had good days and bad, but he dealt with it like a champ," Scott Wilkerson said.
And he mostly kept a lighthearted attitude.
"He'd always try to make you laugh," said Scott Wilkerson, who warned that people should never underestimate the fragility of life. He knows that firsthand.
Kevin Wilkerson graduated from the York County School of Technology in 2004 and worked at Pennex Aluminum Co. in Wellsville.
Loyal, loving: Longtime family friend Sasha Nash said he always put a positive spin on things.
"He was really philosophical," she said. "He loved life and he was really happy-go-lucky."
He took his responsibilities as a friend as seriously as he took his work responsibilities, she said.
"He loved and accepted everyone," Nash said. "He was your friend the second he met you.
Family trait: When Kevin Wilkerson spoke about his late mother, he used the same descriptions his family used to describe him.
Just hours after that deadly three-alarm blaze, he spoke about Tia Smith to The York Dispatch.
"She always put family first," he said. "She looked out for everybody."
The crash: Kevin Wilkerson was northbound when he failed to negotiate a curve. The Ford Ranger he was driving went off an embankment and hit the roof of a home that sits lower than the road, according to Northeastern Regional Police.
After hitting the roof, the Ranger struck a pickup truck parked in the driveway, as well as a boat on a trailer, police said. The SUV then landed upside down on the driveway.
His passenger, a 21-year-old woman, was flown to York Hospital with head injuries, police said. No one inside the home was hurt.
-- Reach Elizabeth Evans at email@example.com, 505-5429 or twitter.com/ydcrimetime.