You know the old chestnut: your chances of winning the lottery are about as good as those of getting struck by lightning.

Yet over the past week, I’ve talked with many people who have been jolted by electricity from the heavens and not one millionaire lottery winner.

That they were alive and capable of telling me their tales is a wonder. Lightning can kill, obviously. It can also fry internal organs or disrupt the central nervous system in such a way as to forever alter the victim’s life.

Personality changes may be drastic. Short-term memory becomes difficult. Multi-tasking may become an impossibility. The afflicted may spend the remainder of his or her days distracted, irritable and disordered.

Not to mention jittery during storms.

According to the National Weather Service, 28 people have been killed by lightning this year in the United States, the same number that died last year. Hundred of others were injured by lightning, 79 percent of them males.

Your odds of being struck by a bolt depends on who you ask. The National Lightning Safety Institute calculates it this way: There are 280 million people in the U.S. There are an average of 1,000 people struck each year. Therefore, your chances of riding the lightning are one in 280,000.

Your chances of winning a lottery such as the Powerball is estimated at 80 million to one, per ticket. Not that I want to disclose that fact to the following people. They’ve been through so much already.

Anne “AJ” Martin, 46, of Lisbon

Around 15 years ago, she was camping with friends at Sebago Lake. Suddenly, there was a downpour and the storm began.

“I told the kids, on the count of three, we’re running to the van. While we were running, lightning struck a tree across the street and split it in half.”

A moment later, they were at the van and Anne hurried to get the key — Ben Franklin would have told her that electricity loves keys — ready to open the door.

“My feet were in water. My left hand was on the van door and my right hand held the key. Suddenly, I felt energy going down my arm and through my chest. I realized the energy was going to the key and I dropped it. As soon as I did that, the muscles in my legs went out. I went down and I was yelling: ‘I was struck! I was struck!’ I was shaking like a leaf.”

One of Anne’s friends had been at the back of his car with a knee on the bumper. The same bolt of lightning jolted him and blackened his kneecap. His wife, with a hand rested on her husband’s back, also got a light zap.

They were all taken by ambulance to a hospital in Bridgton where EKG and other tests revealed no lasting damage, just more blackened body parts, the avatar of a close call.

“My left hand where I wear my wedding ring turned black,” Anne said. “The whole thing, it was a strange sensation.”

Kevin White, 21, Biron

Kevin was at work at a store in Coos Canyon July 3 while a storm raged outside. He was inside a storage garage, which most of us would assume to be a safe place. But Kevin was kneeling on cement, and lightning has no problem with that substance as it travels. In this case, the lightning blazed through the cement on its way to a tree outside, using Kevin’s leg as a shortcut.

“I saw a light flash along the floor and I heard an explosion. At first, I thought I was going crazy. I felt a pulse and the whole floor lit up.”

The bolt continued on through the building and blasted a tree outside. When it was over, equipment inside the store had been zapped, a light fixture was blown out and Kevin’s leg wasn’t working so hot, either.

“I had trouble moving it for a couple days. It singed my leg hair and I had some burn marks. The doctor said I was lucky to be still standing at all.”

The strike left Kevin with no superhero-style powers to speak of, except maybe for one.

“I think the credit card machine works faster for me than anyone else,” Kevin says. “That’s about it.” 

Laurie Ouellette, 46, of Lewiston

In the early 1990s, Laurie was working for L.L. Bean in Lewiston, taking telephone orders. It was a gloomy day in the office with dark skies outside.

“It was just one of those rain storms, not a big deal,” Laurie says.

And then crack! From out of the sky, lightning visited the Bean offices and introduced itself to Laurie and a colleague via their computer keyboards.

“An electric bolt came down and hit my left pinky,” Laurie recalls. “It travelled all the way down the row (of customer service reps) and hit another woman maybe 10 people down. It came out her right pinky and both of our pinkies were black.”

Neither of the women were seriously hurt but were ordered to the emergency room anyway. Shortly after, Ouellette began operating Sweet Pea Designs in Lewiston and she credits inspiration from above.

“I own the best flower shop in town and it all came out of my magic hands,” she says.

I’m not so sure she’s kidding.

Kenneth Edgerly, Auburn, around 50 when he was struck.

Golf courses are to lightning what trailer parks are to tornadoes, as witnessed by this wedge-wielder. As he tells it:

“It happened on a bright summer day at Springbrook Golf Club. My neighbor and I were enjoying a round of golf when suddenly the sky turned very dark, thunder rolled, it began raining, and lightning lit the sky. I had already hit a good drive and second shot, which was lying on the fringe of the green. My friend and I sought shelter under a lone pine tree on the fairway. In retrospect, that was not a smart move.

“The rain poured down and the lightning continued. We believed the storm would not soon stop so we decided to make a run for the club house. So, we put on our rain jackets and opened our golf umbrellas — another bad decision. As we approached the green, I stopped to pick up my valuable golf ball. As I bent over, I felt a tingling in the left arm, which was holding the umbrella. That tingling feeling scared me so much all I could do was run as fast as possible.”

Steve Hoad, Windsor, 23 when he was struck.

He thought he could fool the gods of lightning with 1930s music. It didn’t work.

“It was early summer, 1974. I was working overnight at WBLM in a trailer studio facility on a peak of Oak Hill in Wales at about 3 a.m. — 23-years-old, more courage than sense, as the thunder came closer I started the record ‘Pennies from Heaven.’

“I rested my chin on my right hand at the console, a cartridge machine mere inches from my face. I heard a ‘SNAP, SNAP’ as lightning bounced off that machine into a rack of equipment about three feet behind me — and we were off the air.

“That rack of equipment was seriously damaged, the cartridge machine was not. And I remained unscathed to tell the story. The electricity made my hair stand up (and it was long), but it also scared the hell out of me. That bolt of lightning rolled down the WBLM tower and it wasn’t the first, or the last, but it was the most memorable one for me. Twelve hours later and a few thousand dollars spent, WBLM was back on the air. Thanks to the folks who called to see if I was OK more than 35 years ago.”

Jim Shine, now living in the Midwest, 24 when he rode the lightning

Jim was in Portland’s Deering section hanging out in a buddy’s garage.

“It was the summer of 1998 and the whole day had been rainy, so my buddy Chris Grassi and I worked on repairing and cleaning a drum set in his garage. It changed to a thunderstorm and it was raining really hard. We had to close the door as water was getting in. I remember feeling the hairs on my arms and back of my neck raising.

“The very moment I acknowledged it was static electricity I heard what sounded like a shotgun going off right next to my ear. The lights became intensely bright, but it was a pale gray light. Chris and I have talked about it many times and he remembers the static first as well. I also felt a sting in my arm. We jumped up and ran for the access door so fast as we watched the shingles raining down from the roof. It smelled like a gun had gone off at this point as well.

“Looking up the bolt struck the roof right over our heads and blew an entire section of plywood out and it had started a fire, but the pouring rain was putting it out. There was a lamp at the ceiling and a switch at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the loft. The bolt ran down the wires and it ended up finding ground through the workbench I had been working on. It blew a chunk of cement out from under the metal bench leg and the sting I felt on my arm was from the cement shards that went flying.

“For me what was most interesting is before this I had a lifelong fear of lightning. After this event I have never feared it again. I now live in the Midwest and see some crazy lightning that I would not have been able to deal with before.”

Turk Williams, 49, Milan, N.H.

This story is told by the victim’s sister. Her name is Sandy Lambert and she lives in Lewiston. The way she tells it, lightning that jolted her brother just two weeks ago rattled him like no power on Earth has been able to do.

Turk was near his home two Fridays back as a series of thunderstorms rolled across New England.

“He was just stepping up onto the step of his camper when he heard what he described as a very loud explosion,” Turk’s sister explains. “He woke up across the yard in the wood pile. His watch, his hat and his glasses had all been knocked off.

Two weeks later, Turk Williams is still thrumming from the power of it.

“I’ve never seen him look the way he does. He’s still very, very sore. His back is very tender. He functions OK, but he does it real slow.”


Claire Holland, 78, Peru

She thought it was a good idea to get off the phone as the storm approached. She was right. As she told the story:

“I was talking to a friend of mine on the phone. She lived about a 1/4 mile from me. I told her that I was beginning to hear thunder in the distance and that I was hanging up the phone. I no sooner said that than suddenly there was a loud crack, a bright light and nothing.

“She (later) said she kept talking to me louder and louder but I wasn’t answering her. She said she could hear me breathing but that I would not reply. Finally after 20 minutes or so I answered her. I was unaware of what had transpired until she told me. All I knew was that I had a headache and a buzz in my ear.

“That’s about all I can tell you. But I do respect thunder storms and always have. Too many people don’t respect them. I was a lucky one, but others aren’t.”

Mary Jane Newell, South Paris

I remember 56 years ago when I was 10. My mom told me to run up and shut the chickens in, it was going to rain. I made it up the hill to the chicken house, got them all in and secured, ran back down the field to the farm and a bolt of lightning hit the apple tree right beside me — not more than five feet! — splitting it in half. I had long hair to my hips and I remember it literally stood on end, straight up in the air and my skin tingled all over. Never missed a step though, and made it to the house in record time.”

Vance Bacon, 79, West Paris

Many years ago, Vance was working at Paris Manufacturing Co. as a teenager to earn extra money. One summer day, he was working in the dry kiln section of the plant while a storm rose up outside.

“There was a bright flash of lightning and a loud clap of thunder just outside the building,” Vance says. “It felt like someone had hit the steel floor just under my feet with a sledgehammer. I was still shaking some for about an hour afterwards. I consider myself very lucky that I wasn’t severely injured. After that, I had a lot of respect for lightning.”


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