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Lightning strike injures man on crane
The crane's operator suffers burns to his face and is unable to see out of his right eye.
By ANDREW MEACHAM, Times Staff Writer
Published October 25, 2007
TAMPA - Crane operator Jimmy Cooper sat in his cab Wednesday morning, waiting for the rain to clear.
On the ground below him, a few workers had ventured outside the Covanta Energy plant in the Brandon area.
Then a bolt of lightning struck the crane's boom.
"I thought that light had come into my body somehow and come out of my eye," said Cooper, who works for TEI Construction Services, a South Carolina company that is building an expansion to the plant at 350 N Falkenburg Road.
Covanta's chief engineer was standing 30 feet away when he heard the crackle and saw the lightning strike.
"There was a huge blue flash," said Sam Haas, 42. "It was like a welder's arc."
Everyone knew what had happened. Workers rushed to the cab and removed Cooper, who seemed dazed, Haas said.
A safety officer checked his vital signs and found them normal. Someone called the control room. Someone called for an ambulance. The blast shook the work trailer on the other side of the plant.
Cooper, 52, was taken to Brandon Regional Hospital, and his condition listed as stable. His son, Jacob, who had come from Alabama to work with his father on the job, was just a few feet away when the lightning hit. He was not injured.
"It scared the hell out of me," said Jacob, 25.
Hillsborough County owns the waste-to-energy plant, which is managed by Covanta, the company that hired TEI. The plant is expanding to make room for a new generator.
The accident could not have been avoided, said TEI safety manager Tony Stone said. Work had pretty much shut down outside due to heavy rain, and Cooper was not working when he was injured, Stone said.
TEI's safety procedures call for the boom to be lowered and the crane evacuated when lightning is in the area. But no one had seen any lightning before the bolt that hit Cooper, Stone said.
Later on Tuesday, Cooper lay in an emergency room bed at Brandon Regional Hospital, his thick reddish beard moving as he spoke. He held a towel over both eyes. After the lightning strike, he was unable to see out of his right eye.
"Just silhouettes," he said. Cooper also suffered burns to his face.
Cooper was later transferred to Tampa General Hospital to be treated by an ophthalmologist.