Lightning strike kills one person, injures another at Pocono Raceway

Posted at 12:07 AM, Aug 06, 2012
and last updated 2012-08-06 00:07:49-04

A 41-year-old man was killed and another fan was in critical condition after multiple lightning strikes occurred after a NASCAR Sprint Cup race was cut short by thunderstorms Sunday at Pocono Raceway.

Track spokesman Bob Pleban said a total of 10 fans were taken to hospitals.

Monroe County Coroner Bob Allen told reporters Sunday night that the fan who died was a father from Pennsylvania who was struck as he and two other people were either in or around a car in the raceway parking lot near Gate 3. The two fans who were near him were injured but are still alive, Allen said.

Allen said the victim was in cardiac arrest at the scene and efforts to revive him by emergency responders and doctors at the track were unsuccessful. Allen declined to identify the man, saying he had just informed the victim’s wife and she had yet to tell his children or his parents. An autopsy will be performed, Allen said.

In addition, the coroner said “my understanding is there are three others who were brought into Pocono Medical Center that had also gotten the shock that were not standing close to the car.”

Officials had not yet determined whether all of the injured fans were hit by the same lightning strike or multiple strikes. Pleban said Pocono had a policy in place for emergency evacuations but said the track might not have further updates until Monday morning.

“Our heartfelt thoughts and best wishes to those who were injured. And our condolences to the loved ones of the person who was deceased,” Pleban said.

A severe storm warning was issued for the region surrounding the track at 4:12 p.m. ET, but the race wasn’t stopped until 4:50 p.m., after 98 of a scheduled 160 laps.

At 4:21 p.m., the track issued warnings on its Twitter and Facebook accounts: “ATTENTION FANS: Severe thunderstorms are in the area which will produce high winds and lightning. Should arrive in 10-15 mins.”

At 4:38 p.m., cars were still on the track.

The race was called 12 minutes later. Pleban said an announcement was made on the track’s public address system immediately after the race advising fans to leave the grandstands because lightning was imminent.

At 4:59 p.m., the track issued another warning via social media: “ATTENTION FANS: Be advised, seek shelter as severe lightning and heavy winds are in our area.”

On race weekends, track facilities are in charge of fan safety and crowd control while NASCAR handles the competition.

Sheena Baker of Somerset, Pa., said as she was leaving the track at 4:30 p.m. — 20 minutes before the race was stopped — she heard a severe weather announcement on the track’s PA system. But Baker said it was hard to hear over the sound of jet dryers and cars on the track. Baker said she and and her friends left the track after checking the weather radar on their smartphones.

“If people in the grandstands can watch the radar, they had to know this was coming,” Baker said. “They should have done a better job of notifying the people in the grandstands.”

The race was won by Jeff Gordon, who said he heard a huge crack of lightning walking down pit road after his 86th career victory.

“You could tell it was very close,” said Gordon, who learned of the fans being taken to the hospital during his postrace news conference, before the death was announced. “That’s going to take away from the victory, the fact that somebody was affected by that. The fans here are so loyal and avid, so you hate to hear something like that. Certainly our thoughts are with them.”

A fan told The Sporting News that he witnessed a lightning strike near the Turn 3 grandstands.

“Me and my friend just ran into our truck during all the nasty weather,” said Kyle Manger, a New Jersey native. “The visibility was very poor and all of a sudden (I) saw a bolt of lightning right in front of our windshield.

“When it became a little more visible, we saw two bodies next to a destroyed tent with people scrambling.”

About an hour after the race was stopped (5:50 p.m.), track President Brandon Igdalsky tweeted: “Hoping for the safety of all the fans that are leaving in this crazy storm. Please seek shelter as there is alot of cloud 2 ground lightning.”

NASCAR was not available for comment but did release a statement through spokesman David Higdon.

“We are deeply saddened that a fan has died and others were injured by lightning strikes following today’s race at Pocono,” Higdon said. “Our thoughts are with them as well as all those affected by this unfortunate accident.”