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Against Gritty Girl Softball Players, Lightning Strikes Out

Times Staff Writer

The day after Beth Carrillo was struck by lightning as her Bobby Sox softball team warmed up for a game, she said she would never play softball again.

Now, a year after the freak incident in which a bolt of lightning terrorized and injured a team of little girls in Tustin, 9-year-old Beth is back on the field shagging flys, fielding grounders and swinging the stick with her new team, the Lemon Limes.

“Between me and the other girls we were able to change her mind by telling her she was hit by lightning because of the lightning, not because of softball,” said Beth’s mother, Andrea Carrillo.

On April 23, 1988, Beth and her softball team, the Waves, which would later be known as the “Shock” Waves, were warming up for a game against the Candy Canes at Edgewood Elementary School in Tustin when it started to rain.

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Some of the girls fled for protection under a 50-foot oak tree. Soon afterward, lightning struck the tree, sending an electrical charge through eight girls.

“It sounded like a big boom,” said Kya Whitfield, whose daughter Kaylee was among the victims. “They all did 90-degree turns and fell. Then there were little puffs of smoke coming up from the ground.” Because they all fell in unison, “I thought it was an act they had planned.”

Whitfield, however, soon realized that it was no act and ran to her daughter. Fortunately, she had gone through cardiopulmonary resuscitation training with the Girl Scouts 2 months earlier.

“She had stopped breathing and so we gave her CPR,” Whitfield said. “It seemed like we were giving her CPR for quite a while.”

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Unlike the other girls, Kaylee does not remember that terrifying moment and has not been forced to confront a fear of stormy weather or softball. But she decided not to play softball this year because she is more involved in soccer.

Most of the girls received second- and third-degree burns on their feet and arms and some on their stomachs and backs. As a result they have scars, which in some cases will disappear with age. But others will need plastic surgery on their feet, legs and, in one case, forehead.

Wendy Meyers, whose heart stopped beating when the lightning struck her, has had arrhythmia, an irregularity in the heart beat, ever since.

“She does get tired more than she did before,” Wendy’s mother Jan Meyers said. “She also has muscle spasms in her arm. It’s at the point that she doesn’t even tell me about them anymore.”

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Katie Maggard, who suffered third-degree burns on her right foot, had to undergo extensive skin grafting surgery, but it has not slowed her down.

“She is really eager to get on the field,” her stepfather Bill Leach said. “It was very surprising that she was as calm as she was” after the incident.

Katie joins former Waves teammate Carrie Bates on their new team, the Bluejays. The tem is managed by Katie’s mother, Carrie Leach, and coached by Carrie’s father, John Bates.

John Bates also was the coach of the Waves. He was loading equipment 20 feet away when the lightning stuck. He moved quickly to help administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation to Kaylee Whitfield.

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He said his daughter Carrie received only “flash burns” and was released from the hospital that same day. Carrie has had no fear of playing softball again, and has been “real gung-ho” about the new season.

But most of the other girls have had to overcome a fear of gathering clouds when they are outside, their families say.

Wendy, Tiffany Thompson and Julie Throckmorton had to face lightning again during family vacations last summer.

“We went up to Lake Powell and just about every day there was lightning,” Jan Meyers said. “She was screaming when she saw the first lightning. I couldn’t even calm her down.”

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Tiffany also spent some time at Lake Powell and her mother, Tracy Thompson, dealt with her daughter’s fear directly.

“It was an act of God. If it happens again, it happens. It’s always going to be out there. You just can’t go run into your room and hide,” Thompson said. “She may be 10 but she has to be realistic about it.”


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