Lightning strikes at Venice Beach kill swimmer, injure 13 others

By Gary Walker

College student Nick Fagnano died when lightning struck the water

College student Nick Fagnano died when lightning struck the water

A 20-year-old swimmer was killed and 13 others were injured Sunday during a freak thunderstorm in which multiple lightning strikes hit the water and the sand at Venice Beach.

Nick Fagnano, who attended Santa Monica College last year and had enrolled to attend USC in the fall, was pulled from the water but could not be resuscitated.

Of the 13 others firefighters treated at the scene, eight — including a 15-year-old surfer — were transported to a local hospital, one patient listed in grave condition and another in critical condition, LAFD spokeswoman Katherine Main said. A 55-year-old surfer remains in critical condition and the 15-year-old boy is in fair condition, according to news reports.

Firefighters arrived at the beach shortly before 2:30 p.m., she said, in response to a 911 call that a beachgoer had been electrocuted.

“Everyone who was injured or complaining of some condition was either in the water or near the edge of the ocean. They all complained of conditions associated with lightning strikes,” Main said.

Venice resident Roxanne Brown, who was on the beach with friends, said lightning also struck the sand.

“I saw two glowing yellow lines that went into the sand about a foot in front of me. It was as if they were beside me,” said Brown, 58, who recalled feeling a tingling sensation. “It was so surreal. It was as if an electrical current went through our bodies.”

Elizabeth Olson, who was with Brown, saw the young surfer being pulled from the water and raced over, helping to administer initial CPR.

“He was unresponsive, and I hope he’s all right,” Olson, 59, said of the surfer. “Luckily there was a doctor nearby, and he began giving the lifeguard instructions on how to treat [the surfer] when they arrived.”

The lightning strikes, said Olson, who teaches swimming, “came out of nowhere.”

Robin Rudisill, who lives off Ocean Front Walk just north of the Venice Pier, was outside in her yard and opening a metal door when she heard a massive bang and felt a shock wave travel through her hand.

“I screamed,” said Rudisill, 57. “It was quite scary. It was the most incredible sound. It sounded like the world was breaking.”

According to reports, witnesses estimated that the deadly strike that hit the water occurred south of Venice Pier near the Marina Peninsula.

Roger Davis, who lives on Driftwood Street south of the pier, told the Los Angeles Times that “the whole place shook” and that a friend who is a doctor had gone to help treat victims on the beach.

Stuart Seto of the National Weather Service in Oxnard confirmed that four lighting strikes hit Venice Beach during the roughly 15-minute storm.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Severe Storms Laboratory, weather conditions on the West Coast produce the fewest incidents of lightning striking a person or the ground in the United States.

Rudisill, who heads the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee, said she was disappointed that there were no public employees stationed near the pier as there have been in past summers, which she said may have helped direct first responders.

“There seemed to be some confusion as to what direction they should have gone in. Seconds count in an emergency when you’re trying to resuscitate someone,” said Rudisill, who is also a member of her council’s public health and safety committee.

The Venice Neighborhood Council voted on Dec. 2   to ask Los Angeles city officials to install a public address system on the Venice boardwalk for emergency and evacuation purposes, and Rudisill thinks the lightning strikes underscore the need to revisit the concept.

“Having a centralized location where people on the boardwalk and on the beach can be notified quickly in an emergency can make a difference in saving lives,” she said.

Los Angeles County Lifeguards Capt. Brian Jordan said 10 to 15 companies responded to the scene and performed rescues along the coast. Three lifeguard boats were also called out to assist.

Fagnano, who according to reports attended Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High School, had played baseball at Santa Barbara City College.

“We are deeply saddened to hear about the loss of a great friend. Nicky Fagnano was an outstanding player and even better person. RIP, Nicky,” the Vaqueros baseball team posted to Twitter on