A 15-year-old Cecil County boy was in stable condition at Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Burn Center yesterday with injuries to his legs, groin and back received when lightning struck him as he rested on a swing in his grandparents' yard Wednesday.
James Ashford had been rocking in a wooden swing about 5:30 p.m. in the 100 block of Jackson Station Road in Perryville when lightning hit the tree supporting the swing.
The bolt traveled through the tree's branches, hit a metal chain supporting the swing, splintered the seat and hit the boy's legs, said Charles Gardner, chief of the Perryville Volunteer Fire Department.
Paramedics took James to Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace, and he was transferred to the burn center yesterday morning.
Ruby Musick, James' grandmother, said she, her husband, Arvel, and two of her grandson's friends had been talking under a large locust tree in the yard in the early moments of an approaching storm.
No rain had fallen, she said, although lightning flashed several times moments before the incident.
"That lightning strike just came up all at once without a warning or anything," said Mrs. Musick. "Bark flew everywhere."
She said her grandson fell from the swing as the lighting burned his legs. None of the others was hurt.
Burn center doctors marveled at the teen-ager's survival, noting that a direct hit would surely have killed him, said Mrs. Musick, recalling her visit yesterday to the Baltimore facility.
She said doctors believed James' husky build -- he is about 6 feet tall and weighs more than 200 pounds -- helped him survive the shock.
A National Weather Service spokesman said Cecil County experienced between 10 and 15 lightning strikes about the time James was struck.
Lightning kills between 150 and 350 persons a year -- between 20 and 30 percent of those it strikes -- in the United States.
Experts estimate the odds of being struck at roughly 1.9 million-to-1, but a hit can be deadly, with one bolt capable of carrying 100 million volts of energy.
Safety experts say that once lightning is evident in an area, the best measures to take immediately are to move away from trees, stay close to the ground or, preferably, simply stay inside.
Mrs. Musick said the doctors told her that her grandson's burns are not as bad as was first thought.
Mrs. Musick said yesterday that feeling had returned to James' legs and that he was expected to be released from the burn center within a couple of days.
"He's just a healthy boy," she said of her grandson. "God was looking over him."