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Powerful shock sends boy tumbling from tree

Jesse Almodover had climbed the tall pine tree near his home in Pinellas Park dozens of times. But as he reached for a branch on Sunday afternoon, he unknowingly curled his hand around a power line.

Then he stepped on what he thought was another branch of the Australian pine. It was a power line, too.

In an instant, that connection apparently sent more than 7,000 volts of electricity through his 11-year-old body.

Jesse was thrown 10 feet away from the tree and about 30 feet to the ground as the jolt of electricity went from his hands through his body and out his right foot. He suffered third-degree burns on his hands and foot.

Miraculously, Jesse survived. Contact with conductors of less than 500 volts can cause death.

"It was frightening," Jesse said from his bed at Tampa General Hospital on Thursday. "I think God is looking out for me."

Jesse's family says Florida Power Corp. investigators told them the boy received more than 7,000 volts of electricity. But a utility spokesman on Thursday said that was undetermined.

On Sunday, Jesse's parents, Cesar and Connie, and other neighbors heard the screams of Jesse's 11-year-old friend, Amy Worley, and ran out of their homes. The tree is near Amy's back yard, and she was just branches below when Jesse received the electric shock.

Jesse suffered convulsions, then lay unconscious for several minutes. He finally began to gasp for air.

"I thought he was going to die," said Cesar Almodover, whose younger son, Danny, came running into the house screaming that his brother was dead.

Jesse was taken to Humana Northside Hospital and later taken to the Tampa General Hospital Burn Unit on Sunday, where he underwent skin grafting surgery Monday.

Doctors say Jesse could develop neuromuscular difficulty, internal problems and cataracts, but are hopeful he will not have those side effects.

Though he fell roughly three stories, he didn't break one bone.

On Thursday, Jesse said he doesn't remember much of the terrifying instant.

"I remember shaking and waking up on the ground," he said. "At first I thought I just fell out of the tree, and then I heard everyone talking about what happened."

Amy, who is still shaken from the incident and seeking counseling, was unable to talk about her experience Thursday.

"This is an 11-year-old girl who saw a very traumatic thing," said Faith Worley, Amy's mother. "It was very difficult for her to come out of the tree, she was shaking so badly."

Florida Power spokesman Will Rodgers said the utility was investigating what happened. He said there were several lines in the area where Jesse was climbing, one carrying 7,200 volts and two carrying 120 volts.

The 7,200-volt line would be a "distribution" line that feeds power to a transformer. The other two lines carry power to homes connected to the transformer. The company is still investigating and says it does not know how much electricity was involved in the incident.

Touching the first power line did not injure Jesse. But when he stepped on the second line, he became a human connection between the two lines.

Rodgers said he did not know why the pine tree had not been trimmed to expose the wires.

"We have trimmed the tree now because we don't want there to be a second contact," Rodgers said. "I do know the father was pleased with our response."

Nevertheless, Joseph Saunders, the Almodovers' attorney, said the family was concerned about protection against high-voltage wires.

"Kids should be able to climb trees without getting electrocuted," Saunders said.

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