EXCLUSIVE: Witness recounts lightning strike that killed East Alabama man

EXCLUSIVE: Witness recounts lightning strike that killed East Alabama man
(Source: Jose Zozaya/WTVM)
(Source: Jose Zozaya/WTVM)

HAMILTON, GA (WTVM) - A story you saw first on News Leader 9, the Lee County Coroner's office confirmed a man was killed after he was struck by lightning while in a boat on Lake Harding.

In an exclusive follow up, we talked to one lake resident who said he saw the tragedy flash before his eyes.

Courtland Bailey says he witnessed the exact moment on Friday night when lightning struck Lake Harding, killing a man in a then-stranded boat.

"I saw the boat that was heading up the river, across from me on the Alabama side," Bailey said. "It hit the water, and then horizontally, hit the back of the guy's head."

Lee County Coroner Bill Harris confirms 34-year-old Toby Burrow, of Valley, Alabama, died from severe injuries from what the Coroner's Office believes to be "a direct lightning strike."

Bailey, who lives on the Georgia side of Lake Harding, says he remembers that boat trying to make it back to shore as the storm approached.

"The storm came in at about 8:00 p.m. It struck at about 8:15 p.m. That's when the first strike struck in front of my house," he said.

"So, [the boat was] going about 20 miles per hour, up the water, away from the storm, trying to run away from it when the lightning struck."

The Lee County Coroner's Office also confirms Burrow and four other people were in that boat.

Bailey said he rushed down to his own dock to get his boat on the water, ready to help.

"I saw two people in the back of the boat, doing something, but I couldn't tell. And they were floating towards somebody's house," Bailey said.

According to officials, two people swam and pushed the disabled boat to land, while two others performed CPR on Burrow until they could reach land and meet with emergency crews.

Bailey hopes others take caution while enjoying the lake.

"I'm sorry for their loss. It's a tragic thing to go through," he said.

Bailey also said he hopes boaters, swimmers and others enjoying the lake, are aware of lightning strikes and how dangerous they really are.

"I have never seen lightning strike down - and horizontally- go towards a boat like that before," Bailey said. "Ever."

According to the National Weather Service website, Burrow is the eighth person in the United States to die from being struck by lightning in 2017. The other 7 deaths occurred one each in Colorado, Texas, North Carolina and four in Florida.

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