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Lightning strikes tree; student taken to hospital
Georgia Southern football staff lock up the practice facility Wednesday after lightning strikes a pine tree next to the field, right, and forces an evacuation during practice. One student athlete close to the lightning strike was taken to the hospital and released soon afterward. The student's name was not available Wednesday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

A Georgia Southern University student athlete at football practice Wednesday afternoon was rushed to the hospital after lightning struck a nearby tree.

At first, it was suspected that the student, a scout team player whose name was not immediately available, had been struck by lightning, but the early reports were false. It has not been determined whether the player lost consciousness, but a GSU statement said he “suffered the effects of a lightning strike near his vicinity.” He later walked under his own power, entered an ambulance and was taken to East Georgia Regional Medical Center.

According to police scanner traffic, the player described numbness and tingling fingers on one side of his body.
Players who had been on the practice field were waiting out the storm under a shelter when the lightning struck the tree, Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn said.

“Our kids were all standing under the shelter, and it literally hit a tree right next to the shelter,” GSU head football coach Jeff Monken said. “I’ve never been around when a bomb goes off, but I would imagine that’s what it looks like and sounds like — just a big flash of light and a big explosion. It got everybody’s attention, that’s for sure.”

After the incident, players resumed practice inside at Georgia Southern University’s Recreational Activities Center.

The student who appeared to have been injured returned from the hospital and joined the team at the RAC before practice ended, a university official said.

Around the same time, Bulloch County and Statesboro firefighters and law enforcement officers  were busy responding to other lightning strikes in the area during a furious thunderstorm with a great deal of lightning.

Bulloch County 911 operators sent Statesboro firefighters and police to Love’s Child Care center after employees reported the building on Denmark Street had been struck by lightning.

The building was evacuated in case of fire, but responding firefighters investigated and found the bolt had struck a tree adjacent to the structure, Wynn said.

It was the same story at a home on Westhampton Pointe Drive, where Statesboro and Bulloch County firefighters responded after fire alarms sounded. Lightning had struck a tree close to the home, he said.

The storm brought torrential rain, but fortunately, “It was not as much as Monday,” he said. More than 4 inches of rain fell in two hours early Monday evening, flooding streets and apartments, resulting in several road closures within the city of Statesboro as well as in the rural county areas.

There was no other damage reported during the Wednesday afternoon storm, he said.

    Herald sports editor Matt Yogus contributed to this report.

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