Lightning kills man, hurts 8 in Annapolis

Rugby team, fans gathered under tree

June 18, 2000|By Tim Craig and Laurie Willis | Tim Craig and Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

One man was killed and eight others injured when they were struck by lightning yesterday afternoon while at a rugby match at Annapolis Middle School - just minutes after they debated whether to stand under a tree.

Five Norfolk City Blues Rugby Football Club players and four spectators, all from Virginia, were struck shortly after 2:30 p.m. when the intense thunderstorm rolled over Annapolis during a mid-Atlantic tournament.

The father of one player, identified as a 58-year-old man from Centreville, Va., went into cardiac arrest after he was struck. He was pronounced dead at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis.

His son and another player were seriously injured and were admitted to Maryland Shock Trauma Center last night.

The three other teammates, a player's wife and another's girlfriend, and another spectator were also transported to Anne Arundel Medical Center. Three of the victims at Anne Arundel Medical were treated and released, but two were admitted and reported in stable condition.

None of the victims were identified last night, but teammates said everyone - except one of the spectators and the deceased father - were from Norfolk or Virginia Beach, Va. Those injured ranged in age from early 20s to mid-30s.

"I heard a loud boom and saw everybody lying on the ground like a bad movie," said Darin Darden, 34, of Norfolk, one of three Norfolk Blues players not injured. "The storm was coming - but far away - and thunder was in the distance. Then, boom, it just happened."

Pete Jacobe, another player not under the tree, said: "We heard a huge boom, a little flash. People flew to the ground."

Norfolk Blues was playing Washington II for the chance to advance to the next round of the qualifying tournaments toward the regional championship.

With Norfolk Blues winning 28 to 1, the referees stopped the game about two minutes before it was to end as the storm approached.

The players, and an estimated 200 spectators, sought cover as wind-whipped rain and hail approached.

Norfolk Blues players and the rest of the victims scurried under a large tree at the southeast corner of the 400-yard-long school playing grounds.

Darden said he and two other players then walked from under the tree as the storm approached, but the others said they did not want to get wet.

"I heard one guy say, `You go ahead. I am not getting wet. I'll stay under the tree,'" Darden said.

One of the players transported to Shock Trauma was holding an umbrella, and Darden said he foreshadowed the strike."

[The player] said, `I wonder if this umbrella is metal or plastic?'" Darden said. "That is when he saw a glow in his hand. He got numb and knocked on his butt."

After the strike, as the storm continued to spit out rain and nickel-size hail, the victims were shaking or calling out for help, witnesses said, as smoke rose from the tree and ground.

The tree, however, did not split or topple. The victims standing closest to the tree were the most seriously injured, Darden and fire officials said.

All victims were conscious after the strike, except Donald Patton, who received cardiopulmonary resuscitation from spectators.

Capt. Allan Graves, a spokesman for the Anne Arundel County Fire Department, said more than a dozen ambulances and firetrucks Annapolis were at the scene within five minutes.

Graves said it may be one of the worst lightning strikes in county history.

"I think everybody was stunned when they arrived and saw the scene of just people lying everywhere," said Mary Lou Baker, a spokeswoman for the Annapolis hospital.

Baker said the hospital was briefly overwhelmed as the seven victims arrived, but assembled a team of cardiologists, four other doctors, 10 nurses and three medical technicians.

"It was very busy, but efficient and everyone just got the job done," Baker said, noting that the hospital had exceeded the average number of patients it receives in a day before the victims arrived.

Sun photographer David Hobby contributed to this article.

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