WARNING: the following is probably the saddest story known to man. i cried when i read it. you’ll probably cry if you read it. don’t read it if you don’t want to cry. holy shit.
Woman killed by lightning at Max Patch minutes from engagement
Richard Butler and Bethany Lott had made it through the rain as they wound their way up the curves of Max Patch Road.
Most would have turned around and returned home, but not Butler. Though he told Lott they were going on a summer hike, he had other plans.
So with a pause in the rain, the young couple from Knoxville got out of their car, crossed the road and began the ascent to Max Patch Bald, Lott ready to show her boyfriend a favorite trail, Butler with an engagement ring in his pocket and the sky not yet warning of the danger to come.
Thunderstorms had rumbled across the region Friday, and some were severe. But the one that struck as Lott and Butler were on their way to the top of Max Patch Bald in Madison County rolled in suddenly.
Butler, 30, said Monday that he remembers three bursts of lightning, and he thinks the third struck Lott, 25.
“She was probably five feet in front of me, so given the incline, she was a good bit higher than me, but it jumped to me.”
Butler suffered second-degree burns, but said he didn’t initially realize he had been hit.
“I was spun 180 degrees and thrown several feet back,” he said. “My legs turned to Jell-O, my shoes were smoking and the bottom of my feet felt like they were on fire.”
About 30 seconds before the lightning struck, Butler said Lott had turned around to speak to him.
“She said, ‘God, baby, look how beautiful it is,’” Butler said.
After the strike, Butler turned around to see his girlfriend lying on the hill.
“She didn’t say anything, and I turned around and she was laying a few feet away, and I crawled to her,” he said. “I did CPR for probably 15 minutes and the whole time was trying her cell phone, but I couldn’t get anything out.”
Butler tried to pull Lott down the hill, but was unable to continue because the lightning had weakened his legs, so he took off in his vehicle, spinning down curvy roads as fast as he could.
He pulled into the first private driveway he saw and pounded on the door of the house for help.
A couple and their son, who was home on leave from the Navy, answered the door. The father, Dean Farmer I, and his son, Dean Farmer II, both from Knoxville, jumped in a truck with Butler and raced back to the scene.
The elder Farmer said his son is a Navy helicopter pilot who has extensive emergency training.
“When we got back, he was the first one up there, and I was a couple hundred yards behind him,” he said. “He said there was no pulse, no breathing activity at the time he arrived.”
Butler said he is very grateful for the Farmers’ help.
“They were absolute heroes,” Butler said. “By that time, the storm had gotten worse. They stood on the top of the hill doing what they could for probably 20 minutes until the rescuers got there.”
As they ascended the hill together, Butler and Lott were vulnerable out in the open, and the burst of lightning caught them off guard, said Tina Tilley, a district ranger with the U.S. Forest Service.
“If you’re in a situation like that, especially on a bald, you’re naturally going to be the highest point,” Tilley said. “You need to get down and off of the higher elevations. Get back into your vehicle.”
Butler, who works at a grocery store and wants to counsel veterans, said Lott had wanted to take him to Max Patch since the first week they started dating last year and had even mentioned wanting to marry there someday.
Family was important for Lott, he said. She was very close to her mother, father, three brothers and three nieces.
Lott had just returned to school at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville in the hopes of becoming a park ranger, Butler said.
When the rescuers did arrive to take over for Dean Farmer and his son, an hour had already passed since the first lightning strike about 4:30 p.m.
As rescuers tried in vain to bring Lott back to life, Butler said he crouched near her body.
“I put the ring on her finger while the EMTs were working on her,” he said. “They are listing me as her fiancé in the obituaries.”