I don’t know exactly what happened during the moments that led up to the tragic death of Alabamian Keith Brown last week on a small island just off the coast of Panama City Beach, Fla.
I don’t know if Keith heard a storm coming from a long way and waited too long to seek shelter, or if he got caught in a freak storm that came out of nowhere as they so often do in the Gulf of Mexico.
All I know for sure is that Keith was struck by lightning while trying to carry his 14-year-old stepson, Tristan Barger, to safety. The young man was wearing a cast on his broken ankle, and Keith was carrying him piggyback-style when witnesses say a loud crack of lightning sent them both sprawling onto the sandy beach of Shell Island.
Tristan was taken to a Pensacola, Fla., hospital where he later died. Keith was pronounced dead at the scene.
The story caused me to do a lot of thinking -- not only because Keith was my third cousin on my father’s side, but because I’ve often ignored lightning on the water through the years, believing it was worth the minimal risk to squeeze in a little more fishing time.
But I won’t do it anymore -- and neither should you.
According to the National Weather Service, an estimated 24,000 people are killed by lightning around the globe every year with 10 times that many injured. In the United States, lightning causes more deaths than any other weather element except floods.
The odds of the average person -- someone like you or me -- getting struck by lightning in the United States during a given year are about one in a million. Our odds of being struck by lightning during a lifespan of 80 years are about one in 10,000.
On your first read, those odds might make you feel a little more comfortable the next time you’re out on the river and a storm comes up with streaks of lightning that look like long bony fingers reaching toward the water.
But go back and read the paragraph about odds again and tell me if you think those odds actually mean anything to the folks who drew the short straw and got hit by that long bolt of lightning.
I can say with a great degree of certainty today that the odds don’t mean anything to the family members of people who’ve been struck and killed.
As I said above, I don’t know exactly what happened with Keith Brown. It could have been a freak thing that was far beyond his control.
But when it comes to fishermen -- myself included -- I think many of us have become a little too comfortable with lightning.
We are perhaps victims of our own creation.
These big, fancy boats we’re running are better suited for rough water than anything we’ve ever used before.
We don’t fret over a quick thunderstorm anymore because we know our fiberglass boats can withstand a little rough water. We don’t immediately crank up at the first sight of lightning in the distance because we know we’ve got plenty of horsepower, even if we do wait until the last minute.
Confidence is a good thing, but ignorance can be deadly.
So from now on when you see lightning in the distance, always know that it has the potential to harm or even kill you -- and do whatever it takes to avoid it.
I received a painful reminder of lightning’s destructive potential last week that’s gonna be awfully hard to shake.
I certainly don’t need another one.
(Contact Bryan Brasher at brashercommercialappeal.com.)