Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Friend recounts beach day that ended in lightning strike death

Phyllis Kalinowski, 51, of Brandon was killed by a lightning strike at Belleair Beach on Tuesday.

Phyllis Kalinowski, 51, of Brandon was killed by a lightning strike at Belleair Beach on Tuesday.

BRANDON — When Dawn Ryskoski and Phyllis Kalinowski went to the beach Tuesday, Ryskoski thought it would be like any other they spent together — quality time with a dear friend.

But they became separated in a fierce afternoon storm. When the lashing rain and booming thunder finally subsided, Ryskoski discovered her friend isolated and unresponsive on the sand. Kalinowski, 51, apparently had been killed by lightning.

"It is still unreal to me that I went to the beach and did not leave with my friend," Ryskoski said Wednesday.

The women, both from Brandon, had gone to Belleair Beach in Pinellas County. They walked along the sand, and Kalinowski found a shell neither had often seen before. She gave it to Ryskoski, who nicknamed it "the Phyllis shell."

"She was even touched by that, something small," said Ryskoski, 45.

They went to refill the parking meter. Kalinowski decided to go back to her towel while Ryskoski went for a walk down the beach.

Ryskoski was walking in the surf when she saw clouds roll in. She didn't see lightning at first. But the storm grew quickly, and the first strikes were so close she felt like she needed to duck.

Heading for sand away from the tide, she followed a path near buildings to get back.

"When I got closer, I started calling her name," Ryskoski said. Rain beat down onto her face. "It was hard to see anything."

She couldn't find Kalinowski near their spot. She looked for her at the car, then around condominium buildings, thinking her friend might have sought shelter. Ryskoski checked the bathroom, then waited out the worst of the storm in a picnic area.

In the drizzle, she walked back to the beach where their things still sat, thinking Kalinowski had left them as a place to meet up after the storm.

"I started to pick up our wet mess," Ryskoski said. She rinsed their flip-flops in the water.

"I was the first one back on the beach," she said.

She spotted what she thought were beach bags, towels or clothes a little way down the beach. But it actually was Kalinowski.

"When I got right there, I saw her clothes and realized it was her," Ryskoski said. "Another lady from one of the condos helped me roll her over and see if we could help her."

But there was nothing they could do except wait for help.

Deaths caused by lightning strikes are infrequent. Until Tuesday, only four other people had been killed by lightning strikes across the country this year, according to the National Weather Service. Between 2006 and 2012, at least four people in the Tampa Bay area have been killed by lightning strikes.

Kalinowski lived with her husband, Paul. They have two children, an older daughter, Erin, and a son, Josef, who is in his first year at the University of South Florida.

"She bragged about her children to me all the time," Ryskoski said. "She was very proud of her children."

Josef had played the cello in the Brandon High School Orchestra. Kalinowski continued to volunteer for the orchestra's booster club after he graduated.

Kalinowski grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, the youngest of four siblings. She had many life-long friends, said her brother Art Maldonado, 52, of Orlando.

"She had hundreds of friends," Maldonado said. "A lot of people relied on her help."

"She was the most kind, caring, giving person anyone could know," said Ryskoski, who has known Kalinowski since about 2005 when she hired her to work at Amy's Hallmark Cards at the University Mall.

Ryskoski was the manager before the store closed. Kalinowski was a regular and friendly with other costumers. "She would start fixing the ornaments if they were out of order," Ryskoski said.

So she hired her.

"We didn't spend hours and hours together, but it was quality time," she said. "We cherished our moments together as friends."

Times staff writer Marlene Sokol contributed to this report. Keeley Sheehan can be reached at or (813) 661-2453.

Friend recounts beach day that ended in lightning strike death 05/29/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 10:24pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Jones: Bucs need success to get national respect


    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents on the world of sports.

    No respect

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field during the second day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  2. Hopes fade after landslide destroys Chinese village (w/video)


    Crews searching through the night in the rubble left by a landslide that buried a mountain village under tons of soil and rocks in southwestern China found 15 bodies, but more than 110 more people remained missing.

    Vehicles and people line a road leading to the site of a landslide in Xinmo village in Mao County on Saturday in southwestern China’s Sichuan Province. More than 100 people remained missing after the village was buried under tons of rocks and soil.
  3. Rookie Jake Faria dissatisfied with performance in Rays' loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The rookie pitcher walked to his locker Saturday after tossing the fourth quality start in as many tries to begin his career. He held the potent Orioles bats to three runs and for six innings gave his team a chance to win.

    Orioles third baseman Manny Machado tags out the Rays’ Mallex Smith at third after a rundown in the first inning.
  4. Thousands converge in two St. Pete locations celebrating LGBT rights

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom Rockhill didn't know what to expect Saturday, but by noon people were knocking on the door of his bar Right Around the Corner in Grand Central.

    (From left to right) Emma Chalut 18, gets a rainbow sticker on her cheek from her sister Ellie, 15 both of Jacksonville before the annual St. Pete Pride parade in downtown St. Petersburg on Saturday. This year the route was changed from the Grand Central and Kenwood area to Bayshore Drive.
[EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  5. Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald dies

    TALLAHASSEE — A former Florida Supreme Court justice, who wrote a decision that prevented lawyers from excluding jurors because of their race, has died.

    Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald died Saturday, the court said in a statement. He was 93.