As a freak thunderstorm materialized above him, Nick Fagnano walked out into the waves off Venice Beach to rinse the sand off. Moments later, his body was being pulled from the water as bolts of lightning sent thousands of people scattering.
Fagnano — an only child and former student at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks — was pronounced dead a short time later.
“I’m not a scientist, but when lightning hits water, water is a conductor of electricity. So anybody within any region around that lightning bolt was going to feel an electrical shock and probably be knocked unconscious,” Fanano’s uncle, Dan Shanahan, said.
The extremely rare weather event occurred after an intense high-pressure system pulled an unusual mass of hot, moist air up from Mexico and the Gulf of California to the coastal areas, creating the unstable atmospheric conditions.
Lightning from the same storm injured a 57-year-old man and ignited two brush fires on Catalina Island, but it caught many people offguard when it reached Venice Beach.
All told, officials said, firefighters responded to medical complaints by 13 beachgoers, eight of whom were transported to area hospitals. One of them remained in critical condition Monday.
An exact cause of death for Fagnano had yet to be determined Monday pending an autopsy.
The 20-year-old was “the kind of kid every parent would want their son to grow up to be,” his uncle, Dennis Shanahan, said in an email. He had just been accepted into USC’s Price School of Public Policy. An avid Dodger fan, Fagnano was hard-working and kindhearted, his uncle added.
He kept a Bible on his nightstand.
“Everything was ready for him. He set it all up,” Dan Shanahan told The Times.
Friends and family said Fagnano graduated in 2012 from Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, where he played on the varsity baseball team. Fagnano then went to Santa Barbara City College, where he continued to play baseball, before deciding he wanted to go to USC to study commercial real estate development.
Fagnano may not have been a key player on the Notre Dame baseball team but everyone remembers him, his former coach, Tom Dill, said.
“He was the sweetest young man,” Dill said. “He was very involved in our Fellowship of Christian Athletes, where you read Bible study at lunch every Friday. Everyone loved this kid.”
Some of his friends took to social media to express their sadness over his death.
Shands Mccoy tweeted, “R.I.P Nick Fagnano. What an amazing & warm hearted person you were. My thoughts and prayers go out to your family & Friends.”
Rachel Abergel described Fagnano on Twitter as the “sweetest kid I’ve ever met. No one deserves this but you especially. Much love kid.”