Girl is killed, another injured by lightning in SW Baltimore Thunderstorms roll across state on hottest day of year so far


A 9-year-old girl was killed and her 8-year-old playmate injured by a lightning strike in Southwest Baltimore yesterday as soaring temperatures gave way to a series of thunderstorms.

The dead girl was identified by staff at St. Agnes HealthCare as Kassi Burton, a fourth-grader at Rognel Heights Elementary School who lived in the 800 block of N. Woodington Road, in the Edmondson Village area.

The 8-year-old, identified by hospital officials as Stacey Gaskins, also of North Woodington Road, was taken to the pediatric intensive care unit of Johns Hopkins Hospital shortly after 7 p.m.

She was listed in good condition last night.

City fire officials said the girls were standing beneath a large tree about 6: 30 p.m. when lightning hit, leaving a huge gash in the trunk.

A child playing with them said about five girls were in the alley behind Woodington Road, pasting fake tattoos on each other when a hard rain began to fall.

The girls were running home when they were struck, said the friend, 11-year-old Stacey Offer.

"We were trying to get home so we wouldn't get wet," she said.

Stacey, who lives on a nearby street, took a different route home and heard booming thunder when she reached the back steps of her house.

"My grandma was fussing at me because it could have been me that was struck by lightning," she said.

"They wouldn't let me go [back to] see them."

Cherby Worthington, a 38-year-old tax preparer, ran outside to find the two girls lying in her yard. Kassi had a 6-inch hole in her aqua T-shirt, appeared to have layers of skin burned on her chest and was not moving.

Worthington immediately began CPR.

"I just wanted her to come around,"Worthington said. "Our block is a very tight block, every kid is our kid."

Hector Torres, a city Fire Department spokesman, said lightning often strikes trees and utility poles when storms roll through the metro area, but it is rare that people are hit.

Lightning caused brush fires and set the roof of an Arnold home ablaze in Anne Arundel County. The New Lebanon Calvary Baptist Church in East Baltimore was also damaged by lightning from the storm, which knocked out power to 20,000 households in Central Maryland -- mostly in Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County.

BGE crews were working last night to restore service.

There were many reports of downed trees and power lines throughout the area. Hail was reported in Towson and Perry Hall.

"This storm went in a definite line" from south to east, said Kevin Grishkot, a Baltimore County fire dispatcher. "It didn't hit the entire county. The places that got hit got hit pretty good."

More thunderstorms may sweep through Central Maryland today, with high temperatures expected in the mid-90s, according to weather forecasters. Tomorrow's temperatures may decline slightly, with a high expected in the upper 80s.

The high at Baltimore-Washington International Airport hit 96 at 4 p.m. yesterday, making it the hottest day so far of 1998 -- but Marylanders seemed to take the day in stride. Utility and emergency officials didn't report any major problems and said their systems were meeting the demand.

"There's certainly a very heavy load because of all the air conditioners running, but we're handling it OK," said BGE spokesman Jessica Brown. "It's a hot summer day in June like we have every year. We're nowhere near breaking records."

Baltimore's record for the highest temperature in the month of June was 105 degrees in 1934, said Jackie Hale, a hydro-meteorologic technician at the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va.

The heat index, the measure of heat combined with humidity that reflects how hot the weather feels, was 98 at 4 p.m. in Baltimore yesterday -- only 2 degrees above the temperature, Hale said. That means humidity did not add a great deal of discomfort, she said.

"A heat index of 98 is certainly something to be cautious about, but it's not too terribly bad," Hale said. "We recommend with an index like that that people drink a lot of water and wear light clothing and a hat."

Torres said the high temperatures of the past two days -- Thursday's high was 93 -- have prompted the usual ambulance runs to hospitals for people complaining of heat-related problems.

"When the temperatures get high, we get a lot of those calls," Torres said. "But we haven't had any extraordinary problems."

The sweltering heat on a Friday afternoon caused a lot of grumbling from Baltimoreans as they got off work yesterday.

But in the park by the city's War Memorial near City Hall, about 20 sweaty men were glued to their chess boards for an afternoon match.

Pub Date: 6/27/98

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