Mother describes rush to safety as lightning strikes family’s SUV
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A Dilley woman and her daughters traveling home from a sports event Thursday, March 30, succeeded in fleeing their disabled vehicle beside the interstate after it had been struck by lightning and before it was destroyed by fire.
Tamar Cook, 36, was accompanied by her 15- and one-year-old children on IH-37 near Pleasanton shortly after 9:30 p.m. when a spring storm developed, causing several lightning strikes in the area.
The elder daughter was making a short video of the storm when a lightning bolt struck the family’s vehicle, a 2021 Chevrolet Traverse.
“My daughter, who has her learner’s driving permit, had just finished saying that she was glad I was the one driving, because the lightning was coming down all around,” Cook said of the incident. “We weren’t particularly afraid of the storm. It wasn’t raining heavily.”
When the bolt struck the Chevrolet, all of the vehicle’s electronics were disabled, Cook said, but the engine continued running.
“I knew that something was wrong, but it had happened so fast,” Cook said. “There was a flash of light and then we could hear a loud crackling sound, like breaking glass.
“I didn’t want to lose control of the vehicle, but I had been going 75 miles per hour,” she said. “Traffic was moving at regular speeds. You can’t just stop right there. I had to slow down and try to get off the road, and that’s when we went over the roadside median. I said ‘Hold tight, we’re going off the road,’ and we made it onto the middle of the access road before the car finally stopped.”
Cook flagged down a passing motorist who parked behind the SUV and offered help.
“The man barely spoke English, but he wanted to help,” Cook said. “First on my mind was getting everyone safe, kids first. That’s when the rain suddenly started coming down hard. We were getting soaked.
“My elder daughter jumped out of the car, and I tried to get the baby out, but the doors were locked and I couldn’t unlock them. The electronics were fried,” she said. “I was reaching into the car, pulling the baby, the baby blanket and the diaper bag out, when I noticed a smell of smoke. We had to get out of there fast.”
Mother and daughters were wrapped in blankets in the other traveler’s pickup truck cab when Cook realized that she had left her wallet in the disabled car.
“The man said he would run and get it, but he came right back and said the car was on fire,” Cook said. “That’s when we saw the flames. They appeared to be coming from an area near the dashboard and windshield.
“We were in the man’s pickup truck, parked very close to my car, which was now on fire,” Cook said. “I shouted, ‘Back up, back up!’ so that he would put the truck in reverse and get us all away from danger.
“The fire spread quickly, and by the time the Pleasanton fire department arrived, the car was a total loss,” she said.
Deputies of the Atascosa County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched to investigate the fire. Cook and her daughters were delivered to a relative’s home, where they were met by her husband, Tommy. The couple took the children to a Jourdanton hospital for a check-up before returning to Dilley.
“We were concerned that the kids had inhaled smoke while they were still in the car,” Cook said. “We are all okay. A few bumps and bruises from the car going over rough ground beside the interstate, but that’s it.
“A short time after the fire, my daughter discovered that she had caught the lightning strike on video,” Cook said.
“We are lucky to have made it out of there safe and sound,” she added. “A lot of people believe that moving vehicles can’t be struck by lightning, but they can. It might be rare, but it happens. I believed it, too. Boy, was I wrong.”