Lightning Took Two by Surprise
There was little warning before one man was killed and one injured Saturday.

By John Chambliss
The Ledger
john.chambliss@theledger.com

MULBERRY -- As Timothy Overstreet and Terry Lee talked near a 30-foot oak tree Saturday afternoon, there was only a light drizzle and a few clouds overhead.

Dark clouds were in the distance as the two men chatted, but no lightning could be seen and there seemed be no need to hurry for the shelter of a friend's apartment.

Then came the thundering boom and the shock that knocked both men to the ground.

The lightning bolt killed Overstreet and injured Lee.

Overstreet, 40, of 900 Ninth Ave., in Mulberry, suffered burns to his right shoulder, right arm and down the right side of his body, said Dr. Stephen Nelson, Polk County's medical examiner.

"If it wasn't a direct hit, it was very close to direct," Nelson said. "It was one of those freak things."

Lee, 21, suffered from numbness to his right arm and leg, police said.

In addition, he said during an interview Sunday, the bottom of his feet were burned. Lee said he expected to be released from Bartow Memorial Hospital late Sunday.

The men were at a friend's apartment on Seventh Place about 1 p.m. Saturday. Lee was leaning against a car about 8 feet from Overstreet, who was sitting in a chair under the tree, said Mulberry Fire Chief Mitch Carmack.

The lightning bolt apparently struck the ground about a foot in front of Overstreet and traveled through the ground to Lee, Carmack said.

"I turned around and he was falling," Lee said from his hospital bed at Bartow Memorial.

"I fell one way and he fell the other."

Lee said he couldn't remember seeing anything when the bolt hit.

A friend, Mickey Rivera, screamed "You've been hit by lightning," but Lee said he couldn't stand because he was so dazed.

Rivera helped him into her home, Lee said.

"I was trying to get up but I couldn't."

Mulberry police Lt. Randolph Tagliarini said the lightning might have grazed the top of the tree then branched off before striking Overstreet. Officials said the conditions weren't stormy.

"The dark clouds weren't that close to the city," Tagliarini said.

Carmack said it was partly sunny when he saw the bright flash inside his home, three blocks from the apartment complex.

Lee said he was lucky to be standing where he was. And he said he would miss his friend.

"I've known him ever since I was little," Lee said. "He always told us to stay out of trouble."

Before Saturday's death, the most recent lightning death in Polk County was in July, 1998, when two golfers died on a North Lakeland golf course. Steve Kester, 43, of Lakeland, and Doug Staley, 37, of Dallas, Texas, died from the lightning strike at Huntington Hills Golf & Country Club.

John Chambliss can be reached at john.chambliss@theledger.com or 863-802-7539.