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Oxford and Norfolk counties grieve loss of Tillsonburg man struck and killed by lightning

By Megan Stacey, The London Free Press

Dave Johnson. (FACEBOOK)

Dave Johnson. (FACEBOOK)

The death of a 52-year-old Tillsonburg man who was struck and killed by lightning is sending ripples of grief through communities in southwestern Ontario.

Dave Johnson was mowing his lawn around 3:15 p.m. on Sunday when he was hit.

Johnson owned Ruffin’s Pet Centre in Tillsonburg and was well known in the community.

“He truly had a heart of gold and the whole town is devastated by his passing,” said Anne Ploss with Purrfect Companions of Norfolk, a cat rescue.

“With his help, we were able to rehome many cats and kittens…we seldom left the store without some kind of donation for the shelter,” Ploss said.

Tributes to Dave Johnson poured in across social media on Monday as news spread, many focusing on his kindness and generosity.

One employee wrote on Facebook that Johnson was “not only a boss. You were my friend. You have helped so many people in your life including myself.”

Another Facebook poster wrote “never gonna be the same at Ruffins, I was so excited to take the new puppy there to show Dave.”

Many noted that Johnson’s death is a huge loss for the Tillsonburg community. And it’s not only tragic – it’s scary.

He was just cutting the grass.

It’s easy to underestimate the danger of a thunderstorm, experts said.

But lightning can be deadly.

“Even with storm chasing, it’s what I would consider the one thing that scares me,” said Mark Robinson, a storm chaser and meteorologist with the Weather Network.

“It’s one of those things people don’t realize, that you’re in danger if you can hear the thunder. We always say ‘if it roars, go indoors,’” he added.

Ria Alsen, a severe weather meteorologist with Environment Canada, said that lightning claims the lives of about a dozen Canadians each year.

“Usually (lightning strikes) hit the tallest thing around – tall trees or poles or hydro towers – anything that is good at conducting electricity,” she said. “I understand this person was mowing his lawn, so possibly the metal from the lawnmower might have attracted the strike.”

She emphasized that any type of lightning can be dangerous.

“They are all strong enough to cause a fatality. If you’re hit, and it goes through your heart…your heart can stop,” Alsen said. “It’s a really high voltage shock that goes through your body.”

And there’s no time to waste if you see a storm rolling in.

“Lightning can travel quite a distance from the main storm…as much as 10 or 20 kilometres,” Alsen said.

Robinson wants to make people aware about the threat of lightning strikes. No one is invincible.

“Even the most innocuous little thunderstorm can still kill you.”

mstacey@postmedia.com

 

STAY SAFE IN A STORM

Tips from Ria Alsen, Environment Canada meteorologist:

  • Don’t stand under a tree, near a fence, or in the middle of a field, where you’re more likely to be struck by lightning.
  • Keep an eye on the sky, and watch storms or lightning from inside.
  • If you’re inside a car, stay there. It’s one of the safest places to shelter from lightning.
  • If there’s nowhere to seek shelter, squat down and curl into a ball, with both feet on the ground. Lightning could travel up one leg and out the other this way, without hitting your heart.