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Holiday bolt kills 1; 27 hurt

LAKELAND — A lightning strike at a Fourth of July gathering here killed one person and sent 18 others to hospitals Saturday, officials said.

Nine others suffered minor injuries.

About 100 people from a church group were playing soccer and volleyball in Lakeland when a lightning bolt or series of strikes hit nearby, seemingly out of nowhere, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.

Benjamin Gonzalez, 30, who was playing soccer, was hit and collapsed.

Emergency workers had peeled off some of Gonzalez's clothes and used a defibrillator before they took him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Judd said the survivors' injuries were not life-threatening, with symptoms including numbness and tingling.

Authorities say witnesses recalled a slight drizzle before the lightning struck. Some said they felt a shock.

'My boy was playing goalie. He was scared and crying like a baby,' said Miguel Moyeda, who was watching the soccer game.

About 22 players were on the field. Moyeda sat on the sidelines, often retreating to the wooden pole barn when it rained at times during the day.

"I heard the thunder and a crack on the roof and turned around and saw clouds," he said. "When I turned my head back to the field, I saw the guy laying on the ground.

"It wasn't even raining back there. I didn't really think it was going to hit lightning right here," Moyeda said.

Authorities were called to the Iglesia Bautista Maranatha's property about 4:40 p.m.

Witnesses said there was some cloud buildup in the area, but it wasn't enough to alarm anyone, Judd said.

Meteorologist Josh Linker of Bay News 9 verified there was no rain near the lightning strike. Linker said there was a storm well south of the strike that the lightning came from.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has said lightning causes more deaths in Florida than all other weather hazards combined, including hurricanes and tornadoes, and that Florida has more lightning casualties than any other state.

Information from the Associated Press, Lakeland Ledger and Bay News 9 was used in this report.

Holiday bolt kills 1; 27 hurt 07/04/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 6, 2009 12:26pm]
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