Two injured in lightning strike on Clearwater Beach

Lightning is most dramatic at night; however, it is no less deadly during the day. Safety experts advise everyone to seek shelter indoors during thunderstorms.

CLEARWATER — Two people were injured, one critically, by a lightning strike when a line of storms moved onshore Clearwater Beach from the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday afternoon.

Clearwater police and fire and rescue responded about 2:15 p.m. to the north part of Clearwater Beach at the end of Somerset Street about halfway between the water line and the dunes.

Police say Arkadiusz Gacek, 37, of Des Plaines, Illinois was unconscious and not breathing when an officer arrived. The officer began CPR until lifeguards arrived and took over medical treatment until fire and rescue made it to the scene.

Gacek was transported to Morton Plant Hospital in critical condition. Police reported on Monday afternoon that he was still hospitalized in critical condition.

Police say the second victim, Sab Keomany, 43, of Pickerington, Ohio, was a few feet away and in stable condition. He was treated and released from Morton Plant Hospital on Sunday.

Police say they were trying to leave the beach when they were struck.

Lightning can be deadly

Four people have died from lightning strikes so far this year, according to information from John Jensenius, lightning safety specialist with the National Lightning Safety Council.

They include a 32-year-old man who was killed by lightning while getting out of his car in Chester County, South Carolina on May 5. The second was a 41-year-old man who died May 27 after he was struck by lightning while mowing his lawn in Part St. Lucie, Florida.

The third was a man who died May 27 after he was struck by lightning near China, Texas while doing construction work in the backyard of a home. The most recent death was on June 6. A 65-year-old woman was struck by lightning while walking in a residential area in Durango, Colorado.

According to the National Lightning Safety Council, lightning kills and injures more people in the summer than any other time of the year. Most of these deaths and injuries can be prevented if people move indoors when thunderstorms are in their area.

Florida is considered the lightning capital of the world, according to many. It is known for its cloud-to-ground lightning strikes and averages 3,500 flashes a day with 1.2 million flashes a year, according to Vaisala, a Finnish company that develops, manufactures and markets products and services for environmental and industrial measurement.

June 21-27 was the 20th annual National Lightning Awareness Week. When the week was first observed in 2001, about 55 deaths a year occurred in the United States. Awareness and education campaigns have reduced that number. The 10-year average, 2010-2020 is now down to 26 deaths.

“The decrease in lightning deaths can be largely attributed to increased awareness of the dangers of lightning, better lightning safety policies and guidelines and better medical attention for lightning victims,” Jensenius said in a press release.

He said before the education campaign began, at least 626 people had died as the result of lightning strikes in a 19-year period and thousands were injured.

“In most cases victims were merely steps away from safety when struck and either failed to recognize the danger, or neglected to respond to the threat,” Jensenius said.

No place is safe outdoors when thunderstorms are in the area, according to the Lightning Safety Council.

“When thunder roars, go indoors.”

For more information about lightning safety, visit lightningsafetycouncil.org.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.

Revised to correct names of both victims and report latest medical conditions.