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    Lightning bolt kills fisherman

    Officials had not identified the man late Saturday. He was struck as he fished in the Tampa Bypass Canal off Interstate 75.

    By MIKE BRASSFIELD and MELIA BOWIE
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 30, 2002


    TAMPA -- The man was fishing in the Tampa Bypass Canal on Saturday evening when thunderclouds approached. He headed for his bicycle to pedal to safety.

    He was too late. A lightning bolt hit him, killing him.

    The fatality may be the Tampa Bay area's first lightning death of the year.

    On average, 10 Floridians are killed by lightning each year .

    Authorities on Saturday night were trying to identify the man, who was killed about 6:30 p.m. as he fished in the canal off Interstate 75 near Fowler Avenue.

    The victim was a white man, 35 to 45 years old, with brown hair and a receding hairline. He was carrying no identification. He was wearing swim trunks and black tennis shoes.

    The lightning strike killed him at the scene, said the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

    A line of thunderstorms moved across much of the Tampa Bay area on Saturday evening, causing problems across the region.

    The storms caused about 2,200 lightning strikes in Hillsborough County, according to meteorologists' radar estimates.

    "Most places got some rain and lighting, but the worst storms were in eastern Hillsborough and western Manatee counties," said Frank Alsheimer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin.

    A lightning strike in Apollo Beach set a house on fire. In the Valrico area, trees fell on a car and a house. Dime-sized hail was in reported in Bradenton.

    Florida has been called the "lightning capital of the United States" by the National Weather Service because, on average, more than 50 people annually are hit by thunderbolts.

    More than 1-million lightning strikes jolt the state each year, weather experts say.

    An average of 100 people are killed by lightning strikes each year in the United States.

    In the Tampa Bay area, at least two people were killed by lightning last year.

    On Aug. 10 in Tampa, 44-year-old engineering professor Richard Stessel suffered what appeared to be a direct hit by lightning near the University of South Florida laboratory where he worked. He was found face-down on a sidewalk under a cluster of six oak trees.

    On July 26 in central Pasco County, 42-year-old construction worker Donald Helton died when a lightning bolt struck an aluminum rod he was holding. Helton was working with a construction crew that was wrapping up for the day.

    Lightning safety tips

    Avoid water, high ground and open spaces.

    Avoid all metal objects: electric wires, fences, machinery, motors, power tools.

    Find shelter in a substantial building or in a fully enclosed vehicle with the windows shut. Canopies, small picnic shelters and trees are unsafe choices for shelter.

    Indoors, stay away from doors and windows. Do not use the telephone. Stay away from appliances, computers and television sets.

    -- Source: National Lightning Safety Institute

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