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Winter Springs rallies around family after lightning tragedy

The 911 calls started coming in seconds after it happened around 2:20 p.m. Thursday.

“Trotwood, in a field. Someone got struck by lightning.”

“It was ‘Bang’ just like that, a little bit of rain came, lightning and then it was just pure mayhem after that,” Winter Springs Police Chief Matthew Tracht said.

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According to Seminole County officials, lightning apparently struck a tree in Winter Springs’ Trotwood Park, traveled down the tree, and hit three people and a dog who were near the tree, waiting by a crosswalk. One of them, Nicole Tedesco, a Winter Springs resident and mother of two daughters, was taken to the emergency room and didn’t survive. Her daughter Ava, 10, was treated and released from Arnold Palmer Hospital.

Nicole Tedesco was picking up her children from school when a lightning strike hit a tree nearby. She’s remembered for being a loving mother and a beloved preschool and Sunday school teacher.

As quickly as word of the tragic moment spread, help started to arrive from throughout Winter Springs and Oviedo.

A GoFundMe page to raise money for the family had an initial goal of $25,000. Then it passed that and raised the goal to $40,000. As of Wednesday night it was at $72,225 from more than 850 donations.

Find the fundraiser link here.

Dominick Commesso of Dominick’s Italian Restaurant in Winter Springs immediately offered to host a fundraiser for the family. On Sept. 5 from noon to 5 p.m., 100 percent of food sales proceeds will go to the Tedesco family. Stefano’s Trattoria, just south of Winter Springs, offered to pitch in.

Local real estate agent Denise McKinley said that residents offered to replace the lightning-struck tree with a lightning shelter. Greg Banfield at Banfield Funeral Home offered to host the funeral for free.

“They’re not our next door neighbors, but they’re part of our community,” Banfield said. “We wanted to do what we could to help.”

“Winter Springs is a very tight community,” Winter Springs Police Captain Doug Seely said during a press conference about the tragedy. “All the residents help each other out and that’s what we like to see.”

What to know and how to stay safe

The strike came just as rain was beginning in the area, during the window of noon to 6 p.m. during which two-thirds of lightning deaths occur, and during August ‒ the month with the third most lightning deaths each year, behind June and July. According to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lightning strikes people most often when they’re engaging in outdoor leisure activities. The most common time to be struck by lightning is a Saturday afternoon.

According to U.S. government data through 2021, 444 lightning strike deaths occurred in the United States in the last 15 years. Only three states states in the continental U.S., Delaware, New Hampshire and Washington, had zero lightning deaths in that period. Florida had the most, with 76 in that same period and with more than 2,000 lightning injuries in the last 50 years. There were an average of 21.5 million lightning strikes per year in America in the last 10 years. More than 1 million of those occurred in Florida.

More than 1 million of the 21.5 lightning strikes that occur each year in the United States happen in Florida.

According to the National Weather Service’s lightning safety guide, there is no safe place to hide from lightning outside, but avoiding tall, isolated trees or objects, and avoiding open fields or higher ground, can afford a slight advantage in not getting struck. Find CDC lightning safety tips here.

The strike that hit a tree and killed Tedesco came just two weeks after three people were killed in Washington D.C. when lightning struck a nearby tree.

According to the National Weather Service, ground current, which radiates outward along the surface of the ground during a lightning strike, is responsible for the most lightning injuries and deaths. And most lightning injuries and deaths that happen indoors come from conduction, when lightning travels along wires or other metal surfaces, such as when using a computer that’s plugged into an electrical outlet when lightning strikes nearby. Either way, the safest place to be during a storm is indoors.

Standing in yet another passing rainstorm during a press conference, that’s what Seely said in the wake of the tragedy in Winter Springs.

“If there’s lightning, you’ve got to really seek shelter.”

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