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Shock of his life: Lightning strikes man at gas pump

A dramatic surveillance video captured the vivid flash of lightning that shocked William Hall just as he was pumping gasoline:  "I couldn’t move ... it was very scary.” But he came away with a bump on his head and a bruised elbow.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

The surveillance camera from the convenience store is a high-voltage adventure — shocking, electric, explosive. Just ask William Hall, the man who stopped at an upstate New York store to get gas ... and instead got struck by lightning.

“The light itself it was bright white surrounded by orange, and then the rush. It was like heat,” the 44-year-old Hall told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira in an exclusive interview Monday in New York, just three days after his brush with death. Other than a bruise on his elbow and bump on his head that he got when he lost consciousness, he was unhurt. He even wore a black shirt with red flames on it to tell his story.

Hall needs help from others to pick up the story from the moment the lightning hit, because that’s the last thing he remembers before losing consciousness. In the video, he is seen collapsing by his white pick-up truck, bumping his head on the vehicle before falling face-first on the wet pavement.

Like a bomb blast
Hall’s girlfriend, Kymberly Fenn, described to Vieira “a bright, bright orange, the whitest white you’ve ever seen. And then the crack was tremendous. I hit the floor. I didn’t know what was blowing up. The people in the store thought it was a bomb. I didn’t.”

Hall and Fenn said it had been raining a little earlier, and they had seen a few bolts of lightning while they were driving to get gas. But none of the bolts appeared close. By the time they got to the convenience store, the rain had stopped.

Hall had pumped $8 worth of gas when a security camera with a wide view of the parking lot and gas pumps captured the orange and white fireball erupting from the pavement a few dozen feet from the canopy over the pumps.

After the strike, Fenn looked behind the truck and didn’t see Hall. “I thought he just dove for cover,” she said. The surveillance tape shows her scurrying out of the truck and bending over her boyfriend.

“I ran over, I grabbed his hand, there was nothing there,” she told Vieira. “Then I got a little slappy on him.”

Fenn pantomimed herself rapidly slapping Hall’s face, providing her own sound effects. “I watch too much TV,” she said to explain her behavior.

She and Hall estimate that he was unconscious for four or five minutes. When he came to, Hall saw Fenn and store employees hovering over him.

“I was asked if I was struck by lightning,” Hall said. “I knew that I had been, so I said yes. They asked if I wanted an ambulance. Of course, I didn’t know what I wanted at that time.”

It soon became apparent that an ambulance was in order.

Even though Hall didn’t take a direct hit, a lightning bolt typically carries a charge of millions of volts of electricity, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. The current apparently traveled through the rain slick on the pavement to Hall.

The administration estimates the chances of anyone being struck by lightning in his or her lifetime at about 5,000 to 1. In any one year, the odds are between 400,000 and 700,000 to 1.

Hall believes that his life was saved because he was holding the pump, which was grounded through his truck. But the ambulance crew that transported him to a local hospital thought he was simply the luckiest guy they were likely to meet. Other than the scraped elbow, a bump on his head and some blisters on his elbow, Hall seemed just fine.

So one of the EMTs pulled out a scratch-off lottery ticket and asked him to rub it — for luck.

“I wish I knew if he won or not,” Hall told Vieira. “I have no idea.”

But regardless of what the EMT found when he scratched off the ticket, there was already one big winner last Friday in upstate New York: William Hall.