Lightning Claims A Spectator's Life At Pga

Posted: August 09, 1991

CARMEL, Ind. — They expanded radar coverage and saturated the crowd with weather warning signs. They sought more advice from local meteorologic experts and even opened the clubhouse to the public. They did everything but move the tournament.

But none of these measures saved Thomas Weaver yesterday.

For the second time in less than two months, lightning took a life at a major U.S. golf championship.

In June, it was the U.S. Open. Yesterday, the PGA.

According to witnesses at the scene, Weaver, 39, of Fishers, Ind., was killed by a tremendous bolt as he walked to his car in Parking Lot F, about a half-mile from an entrance gate just off the 15th fairway at Crooked Stick Golf Club.

"The hair just stood up on my arms," said Vince Jones, 20, a shuttle driver who was in the parking lot during a delay in play caused by the storm. ''My van just shook."

Weaver's companion, who was not identified, said the lightning struck Weaver's umbrella and traveled through the shaft. The force of the bolt knocked an umbrella from the friend's hand, but he was not injured. The two men were within 100 yards of their car.

"I had just gotten into my car and looked down the road and boom - those pine trees just lit up white," said Bob Applegate of Attica, Ind., who was in the parking lot at the time of the fatal strike.

A nurse and five physicians performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation before the Hamilton County Rescue Squad rushed Weaver to St. Vincent's Hospital in Carmel, but he was pronounced dead at 3:42 p.m., local time, less than an hour after he was struck.

On June 13, at the U.S. Open in Chaska, Minn., six spectators were struck by lightning under a tree next to the 11th tee at Hazeltine National Country Club. One of the victims, William Fadell, 27, of Spring Park, Minn., died of his injuries.

Following the Hazeltine tragedy, the PGA of America adopted greater measures aimed at preventing a similar occurrence.

A clear explanation of weather warning signals was contained in the complimentary pairing sheet made available to spectators, and Jim L. Awtrey, executive director of the PGA of America, said organizers were counting on increased use of radar systems and more contact with local weather service officials.

Tournament officials said about 15,000 spectators were on the grounds, a figure that was low because of forecasts of severe thunderstorms.

Awtrey said weather warning signs were posted on leader boards throughout the course at 1:15 p.m., 59 minutes before play was suspended. The suspension of play was marked by the sounding of eight air horns throughout the course.

"As soon as storms enter the area we post the warnings," Awtrey said. ''Since the other tragedy, we've reviewed our policies. Certainly, we've always had a policy concerning evacuation of the course in case of lightning. If anything, we posted the warnings earlier and hoped that people pay attention."

"We try to allow sufficient time to evacuate the players from the course," Awtrey said. "Obviously, that's subjective. When we know severe weather is in the immediate area, we suspend play."

Awtrey added that all policies will be reviewed "to see if more can be done."

The weather warning advisory on the pairing sheet tells spectators to be alert for signs and to "seek shelter prior to play being suspended. If the siren sounds, put down your umbrella and seek shelter immediately." It also lists seven areas to avoid and advises people to remove metal-spiked golf shoes.

Ken Green, one of the players interviewed shortly after the storm, called the incident "a pretty unfortunate thing."

"It's not right to come here and have someone watch us play golf, then someone has to tell his family that he died," Green said. "I don't know what to say."

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