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Lightning hits its a church group celebrating the Fourth in Lakeland.

Polk County sheriff’s victim’s advocate Eric Holm talks with witnesses to a fatal lightning strike Saturday in Lakeland. No storm seemed to be in the area of the church when the lightning struck.

The Ledger

Polk County sheriff’s victim’s advocate Eric Holm talks with witnesses to a fatal lightning strike Saturday in Lakeland. No storm seemed to be in the area of the church when the lightning struck.

LAKELAND — Miguel Moyeda was watching his son play soccer during a festive Fourth of July gathering when the lightning struck.

'"I heard the thunder and a crack on the roof and turned around and saw clouds," said Moyeda, who sat under a nearby wooden pole barn. "When I turned my head back to the field, I saw the guy laying on the ground."

The lightning strike killed one person and sent 19 others to hospitals Saturday, said the Polk County Sheriff's Office. Nine others suffered minor injuries.

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

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

Emergency workers 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. Victims were taken to hospitals in Lakeland, Plant City and Bartow.

Most of the people who attended Saturday's event were members of Lakeland's Inglesia Bautista Maranatha Baptist Church, which owns the property.

Before the strike, the afternoon had all the makings of a festive holiday: Men were playing soccer — trophies stood nearby — women played volleyball, and children came with their families.

"It's a tragedy that a group of Christian people met here on the Fourth of July to celebrate and then an act of God occurred,' " said Judd as deputies interviewed witnesses.

Authorities were called to the church property at about 4:40 p.m. About 22 players were on the field when the lightning hit.

"My boy was playing goalie. He was scared and crying like a baby," Moyeda said. He had been watching his son from the sidelines, often retreating to the wooden pole barn when it rained at times during the day.

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

Witnesses also 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.

Late Saturday evening, the soccer ball, sneakers and various articles of clothing remained on the field.

"I didn't really think it was going to hit lightning right here," Moyeda said.

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

Lightning hits its a church group celebrating the Fourth in Lakeland. 07/05/09 [Last modified: Sunday, July 5, 2009 1:24am]
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