ONECO — As the sun set Sunday night, a brief burst of rain wreaked terror on a small Oneco neighborhood.
Bradenton resident James Davis, who was visiting friends at a house in the 5600 block of Fifth Street Court East, said that just before 7:30 p.m., a small cluster of people were sitting outside the home in metal, wooden and plastic chairs when it began to sprinkle.
The group, he said, was huddled under three large trees in a small grassy area socializing about the Memorial Day holiday when the lightning struck.
The bolt hit two men and a woman, sending two to the hospital in bad shape. The third sustained minor injuries, said Lt. Mark Laraway with Manatee County Emergency Medical Services.
Their identities were not available Sunday night.
Before the lightning hit, Davis said he heard thunder and moved to a sheltered area to take cover.
“I was on the phone and I looked over and they were just sitting there talking,” Davis said. “It happened so fast.”
The bolt was so violent it shot one man into the air and broke some of the chairs, while simultaneously sending the woman flying into the air, he said.
“She landed right on her face,” Davis said.
Davis said he and other neighbors rushed to perform CPR on the man and woman who were directly hit.
“We tried to give him CPR,” Davis said. “He moved for a minute, but then he never took another breath.”
The man who sustained minor injuries was struck in the leg, Davis said.
“I think he just got some of the aftershock,” Davis said. “He said he was going to have his wife take him to the hospital to make sure everything is OK.”
Manatee EMS and Southern Manatee Fire and Rescue arrived on scene and first responders loaded the injured man and woman into the back of two ambulances headed for Manatee Memorial Hospital.
“The woman as far as we know was never in cardiac arrest, only the one gentleman,” Laraway said. “The other gentleman was shaken up at the scene.”
As of Sunday evening the man who went into cardiac arrest was in critical condition. The woman was listed in stable condition, Laraway said.
Neighbor Michelle Rangel said the lighting strike sounded like a gun shot.
“It was loud,” she said as she stood outside her front door glancing across the street.
By then, the rain had almost ceased.
Rangel said when the bolt struck, it caught the palm trees on fire.
On the muddy ground below the trees Sunday night were four chairs.
A metal chair and a plastic one stood upright. Another plastic chair was upside down.
A wooden chair was in pieces.
Children gathered in the doorway of another home and cried as they surveyed the aftermath.
Some neighbors paced up and down the street shaking their heads.
Laraway said lighting calls are few and far between in the county.
“This isn’t a regular call we get. We may only get one or two a year,” he said Sunday night.
Natalie Neysa Alund, legal affairs reporter, can be reached at 745-7095.