Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Apparent lightning strike kills Brandon mom on Belleair Beach

BELLEAIR BEACH — Phyllis Kalinowski owned a bookkeeping business and spent hours each week volunteering with the Brandon High School Orchestra boosters, staying on even after her son, a cellist, graduated.

On Tuesday, she made time to relax and headed to Belleair Beach, sandwiched between Clearwater and Indian Rocks beaches, with a friend.

Deputies are still investigating exactly what happened next, but this much is known: Kalinowski, 51, spent the day on the sand with friend Dawn Ryskoski. At some point, Ryskoski left, then returned about 6 p.m.

She found Kalinowski unresponsive on the beach in the 2500 block of Gulf Boulevard, said Sgt. David DiSano, a Pinellas County sheriff's spokesman.

A violent storm had rolled through, DiSano said. It appeared Kalinowski had been hit by lightning.

"It was a pretty significant storm," DiSano said. "There were a lot of lightning strikes."

According to the National Weather Service, there have been just four other deaths caused by lightning strikes so far this year across the country — none in Florida, until Tuesday.

"This is a reminder as we go into the summer storm season it's important to pay very close attention to the weather, as it can change very quickly," Bay News 9 meteorologist Josh Linker said Tuesday night.

Kalinowski had volunteered for the past five years with the Brandon High School Orchestra Boosters Association. On Tuesday, friends from the boosters searched for words to describe her, still unsure of whether to speak in past or present tense.

She joined the group because her son, Josef, played with the orchestra, which is the oldest in Hillsborough County.

She attended fundraisers and chaperoned trips to San Francisco, San Diego, Washington, D.C., and Orlando, said fellow booster Nancy Chinander.

Kalinowski continued volunteering this past year even though Josef had graduated and gone on to college. She helped in whatever way she could — even buying fundraiser items from students struggling to raise money for the orchestra's trips, Chinander said.

"She was just wonderful, she was so giving to everybody," she said.

Kalinowski volunteered as the boosters' treasurer this past year, arguably the most demanding position, said her friend and fellow booster Karen Riddle.

She got her energy from the children and was a mentor to them, Riddle said.

"She treated those children — every one of them — like she was their mom," Riddle said. "She just had a great connection with the children."

She was energetic, approachable and outgoing — all necessary attributes for some of the orchestra's field trips.

"She saw how much being part of that organization helped the children," Riddle said. "She saw the benefits and how it created a bond between the students."

Kalinowski leaves a husband of 26 years, Paul Kalinowski, and two children, Josef and Erin.

Although lightning strikes are especially common in Florida's summer storms, deaths here caused by lightning are unusual — but by no means unheard of.

Among the most recent deaths caused by lightning in Florida:

• Jesse Watlington, 11, of Fort Myers was struck by lightning in October 2012 as he walked with his middle school classmates to football practice. He was taken to Tampa General Hospital, where he died after being removed from life support.

• Justin Savers Inversso, 21, a lifeguard at Tampa's Adventure Island, was struck by lightning in September 2011 while evacuating guests from the Key West Rapids ride. Inversso was at the top of the ride, about 700 feet above the ground, when the storm approached. Co-workers began CPR, but he died at a hospital.

• A 16-year-old boy, Sam Santilli, died four days after he and his mother were struck by lightning in August 2007 on Treasure Island. His mother survived.

• Another 16-year-old, Jose Alvarez Jeronimo, was killed by lightning in August 2006 while working on a roof in Wesley Chapel.

• Francisco Tirado, 58, was struck by lightning in July 2006 in St. Petersburg while playing with his 13-year-old grandson. He died from his injuries seven months later, according to his obituary.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433. Dan Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.

Safety tips

• Plan your evacuation and safety measures. When you first see lightning or hear thunder, activate your emergency plan. Now is the time to go to a building or a vehicle. Lightning often precedes rain, so don't wait for the rain to begin.

• If outdoors, avoid water, high ground, open spaces and metal objects. Unsafe places include underneath canopies, small picnic or rain shelters or near trees. Where possible, find shelter in a substantial building or in a fully enclosed vehicle such as a car, truck or a van with the windows shut.

• If lightning is striking nearby when you are outside, you should crouch down, putting feet together; and avoid proximity to other people.

• Suspend activities for 30 minutes after the last lightning or thunder.

• Injured persons do not carry an electrical charge and can be handled safely. Call 911 or send for help immediately.

Source: National Lightning Safety Institute


Video from the scene of Tuesday's strike is at Links in today's Times at

Apparent lightning strike kills Brandon mom on Belleair Beach 05/28/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 10:20am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Funeral held for U.S. soldier at center of Trump fight


    COOPER CITY — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102
  2. Chemical industry insider now shapes EPA policy


    WASHINGTON — For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to prevent an ingredient once used in stain-resistant carpets and nonstick pans from contaminating drinking water.

    This is the Dow chemical plant near Freeport, Texas. Before the 2016 election, Dow had been in talks with the EPA to phase out the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which is blamed for disabilities in children. Dow is no longer willing to compromise.
  3. Unforgiving wildfires affect vineyard workers and owners


    SONOMA, Calif. — When the wildfires ignited, vineyard workers stopped picking grapes and fled for their lives. Some vineyard owners decided to stay and fight back, spending days digging firebreaks and sleeping among their vines.

    Wilma Illanes and daughter Gabriela Cervantes, 8, found their home intact, but had lost a week’s wages and sought aid.
  4. O'Reilly got new contract after big settlement


    Last January, six months after Fox News ousted its chairman amid a sexual harassment scandal, the network's top-rated host at the time, Bill O'Reilly, struck a $32 million agreement with a longtime network analyst to settle new sexual harassment allegations, two people briefed on the matter told the New York …

    Bill O’Reilly was fired by Fox News after multiple allegations.
  5. Trump plans to release JFK assassination documents


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Saturday morning that he planned to release the tens of thousands of never-before-seen documents left in the files related to President John F. Kennedy's assassination held by the National Archives and Records Administration.

    FILE - In this Nov. 22, 1963 file photo, President John F. Kennedy waves from his car in a motorcade in Dallas. Riding with Kennedy are First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, right, Nellie Connally, second from left, and her husband, Texas Gov. John Connally, far left.  President Donald Trump, on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017,  says he plans to release thousands of never-seen government documents related to President John F. Kennedy's assassination.  (AP Photo/Jim Altgens, File) NY107