Saturday, May 24th, 2014
By Amy Kronenberger
Celina man unhurt after his car struck by lightning
  CELINA - A person is four times more likely to be struck by lightning than win the lottery.
After Celina resident Paul Bonifas found himself completely unharmed after the car he was driving was hit by a bolt, he went and bought himself a lottery ticket. His car, however, was not so lucky.
Bonifas, 58, was traveling eastbound on state Route 29, just west of the U.S. 33 interchange, at about 9:15 a.m. Wednesday when he heard a load boom. His windshield shattered on the right side, three tires were blown out and his 2007 Saturn Ion's electrical system was destroyed. He was driving through a thunderstorm with heavy rain and was just starting to get ahead of it, he said.
"It was louder than a shotgun, and I was wondering what happened," he said. "I glanced over to the right side because that's where the antenna was and saw the windshield was shattered. So I just coasted off to the side of the road because the engine died at the same time."
Physically, he felt nothing from the strike, he said, not even the buzz of a shock. He got out of his car to survey the damage and knew immediately it wasn't from something he had hit. His antenna was gone and below where it was once attached to the car was a large hole in the fender, about a foot in diameter. On the antenna bracket he saw a small burn mark where the lightning had struck, he said. Bonifas found the missing piece of his car but never found the antenna.
He did not see the lightning.
"I was concentrating on the road," he said. "What caught my attention was the boom and the shatter."
Bonifas had his car towed to Custom Auto in Celina, where owner Jeff Nelson knew immediately there was nothing he could do.
"It's not fixable," he said. "There's too much electrical (damage). If this was a Model A, yeah, but not this."
"Just looking at it, you think that's just body work that can be fixed," Bonifas added. "But the electrical system is just gone. I was listening to the radio at the time and it just died."
Bonifas said the engine was unharmed but his insurance company ruled the car was totaled.
"I've been in this business since, well, I was little, and I don't think I've ever seen a car get hit," Nelson said. "I was in the towing business for 35 years and I don't think I've ever seen it."
Being inside a vehicle is usually a safe place in the event of a lightning strike, said Myron Padgett, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington. But the idea that rubber tires will protect a vehicle from lightning strikes is a common myth.
"The rubber makes it a little less likely a car will get struck, but it's really not that big a factor," he said. "Lightning is strange; you can never tell what it's going to do."
Whether a person in a vehicle is injured depends on the circumstances, Padgett said. A direct hit in the center of the car increases the chances but it is still unlikely. If the occupant is touching any metal part of the vehicle, he or she likely will be injured, but the severity depends on the type of strike.
Another large contributing factor to injury is if the person is using a cellphone or other electronic device.
Being inside a vehicle is a far safer option than being outside, he said.
According to the National Lightning Safety Institute, a vehicle's steel frame acts as a "Faraday Cage" and carries the electric current around the frame and into the ground, leaving those inside protected.
About 23 people died from lightning strikes in the U.S. in 2013 and none of them were in a car at the time of the strike, according to AccuWeather reports.
Padgett did not know how many cars get struck by lightning in a year, but the occurrence is rare, he said. He noted in the event of a storm with lightning, those outdoors should seek shelter immediately. A car - not a convertible - is the best option if a house or similar structure is not available.
Bonifas said he considers himself very lucky to have not been touching anything metal at the time of the strike and that the lightning didn't hit his gas tank. He doesn't know if his luck held for the lottery, however.
"I haven't even checked my tickets yet, so I might be a millionaire and not know it."
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