Local News

Monday, Jul 28 2014 05:41 PM

Bakersfield woman witnessed fatal lightning strike at Venice Beach

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    By AP Photo/Steve Christensen

    Lifeguards assist a person who was in the water Sunday, July 27, 2014 in Los Angeles, after authorities said lightning struck 14 people, leaving two critically injured, as rare summer thunderstorms swept through Southern California.

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    By AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

    A memorial sign is posted on the Venice Beach pier in Los Angeles Monday, July 28, 2014. Los Angeles' popular Venice Beach teemed with people enjoying a weekend outing on the boardwalk and sand when lifeguards and other witnesses say lightning from a rare summer thunderstorm hit without warning, injuring or rattling more than a dozen people and leaving a 21-year-old man dead. Nick Fagnano, of Los Angeles, a 2012 Notre Dame High School graduate, was killed after lightning struck Venice Beach on Sunday afternoon.

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BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

It has been a beautiful day as the Roquemore family traveled from their southwest Bakersfield home Sunday to Venice Beach, battling freeway traffic and overflowing parking lots. They finally arrived in the early afternoon for several hours of fishing and swimming.

But in the 30 minutes it took to find a parking spot the sky turned dark. As they walked to the pier the weather got even gloomier although it was still warm outside.

They were about halfway along the Venice Beach pier about 2:30 p.m. when a powerful blast of thunder shook the entire structure, followed by the crackle of lightning as it apparently zapped water near the pier.

Everyone from children to adults screamed. Roquemore saw some running from the beach; others hugged their children. Light poles along the pier buzzed, and Roquemore said her hair stood on end. She and her 14-year-old daughter repeatedly shocked each other when they touched.

Roquemore, 36, said she'd been holding a metal fishing net in her hand, and she screamed and ducked when the thunder rocked the pier.

A man nearby advised, "You might want to put that down."

After they got over their fright -- not realizing people had been seriously injured -- the Roquemores and their friends continued toward the end of the pier to set up their fishing rods because the worst of the weather appeared over. But it began to rain heavily and they decided to head back to the car.

Hearing fire engines and ambulances as they made their way back down the pier they saw crowds of people watch lifeguards search for a person missing in the water after the lightning strike.

The family saw lifeguards pull a man's body from the water and take him to an ambulance. The Los Angeles Times reported at least eight others were injured.

Roquemore said there were about 10 children -- ranging in age from 5 to 14 -- with them and friends at the pier, and all of them were unnerved by the experience.

She said she explained to the children the rarity of Sunday's lightning strike. They've been to the beach other times, she told them, and have never experienced anything similar.

"This was a very freak thing that happened," she told them.

And, shortly after the lightning strike and rain, the skies cleared and it once again became a beautiful day. The family stayed at the beach until about 8 p.m.

Roquemore said the children weren't the only ones affected by the experience. As she dozed off Sunday evening she dreamt she was being electrocuted.

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