MELBOURNE BEACH – Lightning struck and killed an Oklahoma man vacationing Wednesday on the Space Coast as a cluster of thunderstorms moved through the area, bringing heavy rain, gusty winds and lightning strikes at a rate of five per minute at its peak.
The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office identified the man as 54-year-old Frank Paxton of Ripley, Okla.
Paxton was with his wife and adult children at the beach near State Road A1A and Ocean Avenue in Melbourne Beach when he was struck.
The family was gathering their belongings to seek shelter when Paxton was hit.
Paxton’s wife and a son received minor injuries.
This morning, Melbourne Beach officials announced a news conference at 10 a.m.at Town Hall to discuss Wednesday’s incident and the dangers posed by lightning to tourists and area residents.
“We tried CPR on him all the way to the hospital, but he did not have a pulse,” said Brevard County Fire-Rescue spokesman Orlando Dominguez.
Paxton was pronounced dead at Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne.
The last reported lightning death in Brevard was in July 2004, when a lightning strike in Grant killed a 41-year-old mother and critically injured her 10-year-old son.
In the 2004 incident, Stephanie Anderson died after her family, on a boating expedition, could not get to a boat ramp quickly enough during a storm and instead sought refuge on a spoil island.
About 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Melbourne Beach Police Chief Ronald Krueger raced to the beach and performed CPR on Paxton.
“It didn’t look good,” Krueger said.
Juan Carlos Gran, 30, of Kissimmee was at the beach with his wife and children when the storm struck.
“We got hit by static,” Gran said, adding that he rushed his wife and children to his car nearby. “It was like someone threw a rock at the back of my head.”
Gran said it appeared as though 25 to 30 people might have experienced the static from the lightning bolt — a phenomenon that often accompanies nearby strikes.
“My legs are still hurting; I ran so fast,” he said as he sat in his car, breathing heavily.
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Wednesday’s storm produced a total of 145 lightning strikes in an area between Indian Harbour Beach and Melbourne Beach, said Matt Bragaw of the National Weather Service in Melbourne.
About 90 percent of all lightning in Florida occurs between June 1 and Sept. 30, with July being the most active month.
Wednesday’s storms prompted severe thunderstorm warnings from the National Weather Service starting just after 3 p.m.
There were reports of a lightning strike near Harbor City Elementary on Sarno Road in Melbourne on Wednesday afternoon, but the Melbourne Fire Department said no damage resulted.
“The storm wasn’t that active, as storms go,” Bragaw said. “Studies have shown that lightning storms that produce less lightning actually cause more damage because people take the threat less seriously.”
Melbourne International Airport received 1.38 inches of rain Wednesday.
More precipitation and lightning are in store this week with a 60 percent chance of rain today and a 50 percent chance Friday.
“Almost every storm in Florida at this time of the year, especially in the afternoon, can produce lightning,” Bragaw said. “People need to be on their guard.”