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Lightning injures teen on beach

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

A Wisconsin teenager strolling the beach with his grandmother was critically injured Tuesday when a bolt of lightning knocked both to the ground during a series of heavy thunderstorms.

The boy _ identified by police as Dennis Chartier, 16, of Milwaukee _ was in full cardiac arrest and was not breathing when rescue workers arrived.

He was given CPR and rushed to Palms of Pasadena Hospital, where he was being treated late Tuesday.

"I told my husband, "There's two people still out there on the beach,' " said Helen Miller, 64, of Tampa, who witnessed the strike from a fifth-floor time share in a Gulf Boulevard resort. "The next thing I knew, the lightning had hit them and they were both down."

The grandmother, Eldeth Ruh, who was believed to be in her 50s, was less seriously injured. She was being treated at St. Petersburg General Hospital.

The lightning strike occurred during an intense storm that moved across Pinellas County about 5 p.m.

More than 150 lightning strikes were reported in the Tampa Bay area during the storm's peak. Lightning knocked out traffic lights at two major intersections in St. Petersburg, officials said.

A handful of traffic accidents also were attributed to bad visibility and slick streets.

In Hillsborough County, the storm dumped 2.5 inches of rain between 6 and 7 p.m. and had winds of up to 40 mph, said Andy Nash, a forecaster for the National Weather Service station in Ruskin.

One St. Petersburg woman said she was lucky to be alive after lightning struck a mammoth oak tree outside her 36th Street N home and sent a 3-foot-thick, 60-foot-high tree branch crashing down beside her living room window.

"The house was shaking when it fell," said Esther Levine, 34, of 131 36th St. N, who could barely leave the house because of the tangled mass of branches outside the front door.

"Talk about a loud noise," she said. "I mean, it was unreal."

On Treasure Island, police knew little of Ruh and Chartier. The pair appeared to be on vacation and had checked in a couple of days ago at a motel in Treasure Island, officers said.

The boy, clad in a swimming suit, was burned on his chest, and the hair on his legs was singed. He also appeared to have a wound on his foot, where the lightning may have exited the body, according to witnesses who saw him taken away.

Ruh appeared disoriented and even slightly combative when paramedics reached the beach, officials said. They said those symptoms likely were from either the jolt of electricity or a head injury from falling.

_ Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Jeffrey Gettleman contributed to this report.