Officials: Man, 81, killed by lightning strike in Largo

By Cait McVey, Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, June 19, 2015, 5:24 PM EDT

An 81-year-old man was struck and killed by lightning as he walked in Largo, officials said.

Officials say Jay Freres was walking in front of a home on Egret Drive when he was hit by a lightning strike. Across the street, Ozell George was outside fixing a sprinkler system.

"Just heard a loud, loud clap," George said. "I went to the truck and I looked over to my left and I saw an elderly gentleman lying in the street."

George said he quickly called 911, but it was too late. Officials said Freres died at the scene.

"My heart goes out to him and his family and I was hoping that he would be OK," George said.

Neighbors describe Freres as a friendly man who took daily walks around the neighborhood.

"He was always really, really nice," said acquaintance Michael Amyx. "Always stopped by to say hello. If you were outside working, he would always look at what you were doing and come up and talk."

Amyx said Freres was no more than 200 yards from his home and was most likely heading back there when the storm rolled in.

George knows how quickly it can happen from personal experience. The now 70-year-old was hit by lightning as a child.

"It came down a flag pole at school and shocked me," George said.

That was in the 1950s and while so much has changed since then, there's one thing that remains the same -- Florida weather.

"I know it can be clear in the sky and all of the sudden that clap comes," George said.  "And it don't take but one."

Lightning safety tips

  • Go inside. Stay inside until the storm has passed. You are not safe anywhere outside during a thunderstorm.

  • Use the 30-30 rule. Count the seconds between seeing lightning and hearing thunder. If the time is less than 30 seconds, lightning is a threat. Wait at least 30 minutes after hearing the last rumble of thunder before going outside. Lightning can strike up to 15 miles away from a storm.

  • Avoid tall objects. If you can't get inside, don't stand under a tree or tall objects, as they attract lightning. The second leading cause of lightning causalities occur when standing under a tree.

  • Get out of the water immediately. It doesn't matter if you are swimming in a pool or even taking a bath or a shower. In older homes, metal pipes leading into showers, sinks, and tubs are a danger because metal conducts electricity.  Water is also a good conductor.

  • Stay off corded telephones. Your cell phone is safe.

  • Unplug your home electronics.

Learn more about lightning safety and myths.