ZEPHYRHILLS — The sky offered no hint of relief from the oppressive heat at 4 p.m. Sunday as the Hammon boys fed grass to the neighbor's cows through a barbed-wire fence. The few clouds were miles away.
Suddenly, just as 9-year-old Presley reached to pet one of the cows with his right hand, a bolt of lightning slammed into the fence. The impact threw Presley and his brother, Angel, 11, to the ground, along with a cow and a calf.
Within seconds, they all managed to get up. Then Presley fell back down.
"For a few seconds," he recalled Monday afternoon, "everything went blank. I thought I was actually going to die."
Angel ran to the family's house on Diana Drive to get help. Relatives found Presley on the ground. He couldn't move his right side, said his grandmother, Verna Eastridge.
A thunderstorm moved in quickly and made it impossible to fly Presley to a hospital. Emergency crews instead took him to Tampa General by ambulance as several relatives followed in their vehicles.
Angel and the cows were not injured.
Presley, who is about to start third grade at Chester W. Taylor Jr. Elementary, spent the night at the hospital. He was released Monday and doctors will monitor his progress, Eastridge said. He has cloudy spots in his eyes that may be a sign of cataracts, and doctors warned that he may lose his hearing, she said.
At 4 feet 6, Presley would seem an unlikely target for lightning. And his grandmother said the family was surprised the bolt could strike from what seemed to be a clear sky.
"There was no reason to think anything was going to happen," Eastridge said. "We didn't really believe it at first."
The strike was probably the first from a thunderstorm passing through Zephyrhills that afternoon, Bay News 9 chief meteorologist Mike Clay said. Lightning can strike as many as 20 to 25 miles away from a thunderstorm, he said.
"Lightning can strike about as far away as you can hear thunder," Clay said. "So when you hear thunder, it's a good sign you need to be inside."
Most people in Florida who die from lightning strikes are not standing out in the rain, he said. They're struck by the first lightning bolt of the storm, or by the last.
Presley said he was grateful to escape serious injury, but still shaken.
"I'm just scared," he said Monday afternoon. "I'm not going back out there feeding cows again."
Times staff writer Danny Valentine contributed to this report. Vivian Yee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.