The Lee County Sheriff's Office has identified the man who died Tuesday afternoon after a lightning strike on Fort Myers Beach. Two teenagers were also injured.
Scott Wilcox, 41, of Lehigh Acres was killed when lightning struck on the beach near Estero Boulevard and Alva Drive.
Chelsea Gill, 16, and Zac Latawiec, 14, were also injured. They're both from Lehigh Acres as well and remain in the hospital.
Lightning struck three people on Fort Myers Beach on Tuesday afternoon, killing one and sending two others to the hospital while horrifying onlookers.
Matt Rector, who works at All Island Water Booth on the sand of Fort Myers Beach and is CPR certified, ran toward the trio immediately following the strike.
"It was loud," Rector said. "It was a flash of white and then a crack."
"We saw a big explosion like a firework," Clara Nouri said, who was eating lunch with her family at their vacation home.
Lee County Sheriff's officials hadn't released the names of the victims or issued a detailed report as of Tuesday night.
Robert Gustafson, who has lived on Fort Myers Beach for about eight years, watched as deputies jumped from their cars and ran toward the water, the gray skies swirling overhead, lightning flashing and rain pelting the shores of the otherwise deserted beach behind a Hooters restaurant and a sprinkling of beachside homes.
"There was a girl on her knees and a guy laying next to her," Rector said, adding the third victim was "obviously deceased." It looked like he was struck in the head, he added. "The blood ran down to the water," he said.
The storm was so intense and lightning so frequent that it kept emergency workers and law enforcement inside their vehicles for some time.
As nearly a half-dozen emergency workers attended to one man, another deputy took a jacket and placed it over the man who was killed, he said. The second man was struck in the chest, Rector said.
"The girl was was there, she was in shock," Gustafson said.
LCSO Lt. Jeffrey Dektas said as emergency workers were helping the surviving man, the woman was walking and talking before being taken to the HealthPark Medical Center in Fort Myers. The hospital would not confirm if the survivors were patients.
Dektas said lightning is a common occurrence this time of year, so much so that many people ignore it.
"Then you have an instance like this to remind us that lightning is nothing to play with," he said.
The trio who were hit by lightning on Fort Myers Beach were most likely the tallest objects on the stretch of beach, greatly increasing their likelihood of being struck, according to Donna Franklin, a lightning safety expert with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.
The death of the man who was hit is unusual, as 90 percent of people struck by lightning survive, she said.
The man who died was hit directly, according to eyewitness accounts, which is also "really unusual," Franklin said.
Nouri and her family saw the three victims walking along the beach before the strike.
"I was concerned," Nouri said. "What are they doing outside? It's not normal to be outside with that storm."
UNSAFE OUTSIDE DURING A THUNDERSTORM
Florida is the number one state for lightning deaths, Franklin said, with Tuesday's adding to the tally that makes up nearly half of the lightning fatalities in the country.
"Anywhere you are near water or outside is unsafe," she said. "There's nothing they could do on the beach."
Aside from under a tree — where about 25 percent of fatalities occur — the beach is one of the worst places to be during a storm, Franklin said.
While there is some technology to help inform people of nearby lightning strikes, personal responsibility is the best defense, Franklin said. The NOAA started a safety campaign 11 years ago, and while the number of deaths from strikes has stabilized in recent years, there is still room for improvement, according to Franklin.
"People have to be willing," she said. They underestimate lightning.
Nouri said there should be warnings letting people know of the dangers.
"They should put some signs like a warning to let them know nobody goes out cause it's dangerous," she said.
Experts have a simple saying to remind people of how best to keep safe during storms where lightning is possible.
"If thunder roars, go indoors," Franklin said. "Thunder is Mother Nature's warning."
Seeking safe shelter is where people can go wrong, Franklin said. A "substantial building" or vehicle with a metal roof are the only places where you are safe, she said. Often, those who die are "steps away from safety."
The last person to die after a lightning strike in Lee County was Jesse Watlington, 11. He was struck while on the football practice field in October 2012 at Southwest Florida Christian Academy.
Gustafson said he's never heard of anyone being struck by lightning on the beach and admits he often walks in the rain.
"I do take a lot of chances," he said. "But that's going to change now that I saw it."