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Lightning strike kills U.S. Open golf fan

One spectator was killed by lightning and five others were injured Thursday afternoon when a violent thunderstorm hit the Hazeltine National Golf Club course, site of the U.S. Open golf tournament. All six people were standing under a tree taking shelter from rain.

"I just felt something and then my legs went entirely numb and I went down," said Glenn Engstrom, 36, who was in stable condition at Ridgeview Medical Center in Waconia.

William Fadell, 27, of Spring Lake, Minn., died after suffering cardiac arrest, said Dr. Dale Bohlke, director of emergency medical services at St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Shakopee.

John James Hannahan, 42, of St. Paul, was listed in serious but stable condition after suffering respiratory arrest and burns on his legs. The three other victims, all from Minnesota, were listed in stable condition.

United States Golf Association officials had suspended play at 12:49 p.m. CDT after receiving reports of lightning in the area. Players and caddies were shuttled to the clubhouse, but an estimated 40,000 spectators were still on or around the course when lightning struck a small tree near the 11th tee about 1 p.m.

"Those guys fell like bowling pins," said Greg Groom, 35, a contractor from Minnetonka, Minn., who was leaving the grandstand behind the 10th green when the lightning hit.

"I saw lightning hit the tree," he said. "I ran over and two were unconscious. I didn't know which one to help. Two of them had their eyes rolling in the back of their heads.

"You didn't know which person to help because they were all down and their muscles weren't moving."

Groom said medical assistance arrived quickly, and within 10 minutes an ambulance was at the scene.

Mark Polich, chairman of marshals for the tournament, was near the accident site. "They were all under a single willow tree, less than 15 feet around the base of the tree," Polich said. "Bark had peeled off the tree about 18 feet up. It appeared lightning hit the tree and went down through the tree."

Mary Laukka of Edina, Minn., was with her teen-age son standing under a nearby pine tree when the lightning struck. Laukka said she and her son sought shelter there when it began to rain.

"The rain was coming down like hail, that's how hard it felt," she said. "The weather was horrendous. We thought it would be about a 15-minute storm and were trying to decide if we should go back to the car or wait. We took shelter and waited. People didn't know what to do.

"Then we felt the ground vibrate under our feet. We had about 15 people pushed under that tree and then somebody came running over and yelled, "Get out from under the tree. There are six bodies laying on the ground right behind you!' People didn't know what to do. There weren't a lot of options."

A weather warning in the pairing sheet given to spectators advises people that if lightning is a threat they should avoid open areas, hilltops and high places, isolated trees, golf carts and wire fences.

"Something like this is a nightmare you hope you don't have in golf administration," said David Fay, executive director of the golf association. "You can deal with the players and caddies, but you have 40,000 people in an open area and it is not an exact science to get them to safe areas.

"The marshals were going up and down each hole advising the gallery play was suspended. We already sent off air warnings, three blasts when play was suspended. They have to take shelter as fast as they can. There is no central evacuation place for them to go."

Lee Trevino was approaching the 15th green when he was informed that play was suspended. Under the rules, a player can stop immediately or finish the hole. Trevino, who was struck by lightning at the 1975 Western Open, elected to finish the hole.

"The bottom line is we don't think it's going to happen to us," Trevino said. "As soon as we saw it, we should have gotten in the van and got out of there.

"When this happens on the senior tour, they'll (fans) all say, "Where are you sissies going? Can't you play in the rain?' They don't understand how serious it is."

Bobby Nichols was struck by lightning the same day as Trevino. Reached in Syracuse, N.Y., where he was playing in a Senior PGA Tour event, Nichols said the lightning knocked him to the ground before he knew what had happened.

"I got up and started running around until finally they picked us up and brought us back to the clubhouse," said Nichols, who lives in Fort Myers. "I remember when I got back to the clubhouse, the tournament chairman said, "Your breath smells like burnt wire. You better get to the hospital.' They monitored me in intensive care for 48 hours."

Lightning scares are common at tournaments because of the number of trees and water hazards on golf courses. There was a serious injury at the 1983 U.S. Open at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club. And in 1989 at the PGA Championship outside Chicago, lightning caused power outages but no injuries.

In Minnesota, lightning killed five people last year, according to Dr. George Freier, physics professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota.

At Hazeltine on Thursday, despite the tragedy, play resumed 2 hours and 41 minutes after it had stopped.

Many of the players were unaware that one of the victims' injuries was fatal, including defending U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin, who found out just before starting play again.

"I worry at every tournament that is like this," Irwin said. "I'm surprised we haven't had more. When you have people up in the stands, it's a very, very scary situation. I suppose it's the attitude, "It's not going to happen to me.' But where are you going to put them?"

Many players agreed there was little the golf association could do. Several horns were blown to alert players that play was suspended, although some people said they didn't hear them. Marshals told fans to find a safe place.

Engstrom, one of those injured, said he never saw the lightning strike but had seen lightning minutes earlier.

"Some guys were kidding about lightning before it hit," he said. "I can't remember the exact words, but they were kidding about lightning."

Engstrom said the numbness in his legs began to go away about an hour after the strike. He expected to be released from the hospital Thursday night or today.

Also in stable condition were Ray John Gavin, 49, of Mendota Heights; Scott Aune, 29, of Spring Park; and Jeffrey Skalicky, 32, of Waite Park, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Engstrom planned to go back to the tournament.

"I've got these tickets. But if anything's coming, I'm going to find the safest place I can."

_ Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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