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White House lightning strike: Non-profit worker celebrating birthday is sole survivor

A non-profit worker has been named as the sole survivor of a lightning strike outside of the White House which killed three people.

Amber Escudero-Kontostathis, 28, had been canvassing tourists at Lafayette Park across from the White House lawn before the strike last Thursday. 

Her family say that she was so badly-injured she was hooked up to a ventilator after the thunderstorm, and had been waiting for her husband to pick her up to celebrate her birthday.

She survived the strike which killed Brooks Lambertson, 29, a VP at City National Bank, and James and Donna Mueller, 76 and 75, who were visiting the capital for their 56th wedding anniversary.

The group hid under a tree during a summer storm which was subsequently hit by a bolt of lightning, with that flash caught on camera. 

Amber was rushed to hospital in a critical condition, and was put on a ventilator as she was struggling to breathe. 

Her mother Julie Escudero confirmed that her daughter had managed to take a few steps yesterday evening after being taken off the machine.

Amber Escudero-Kontostathis had been planning on celebrating her 28th birthday on the day of the strike, and was waiting for her husband to pick her up to go out for dinner

Brooks Lambertson, 29, was killed by the lightening strike

James and Donna Mueller, 76 and 75, who were visiting the capital for their 56th wedding anniversary were also killed by the bolt

Brooks Lambertson, 29, and James and Donna Mueller, 76 and 75, were all killed by the lightening strike in DC on Thursday

She had been canvassing tourists at Lafayette Park across from the White House lawn, encouraging them to help support people in Ukraine, before the strike last Thursday

 She had been canvassing tourists at Lafayette Park across from the White House lawn, encouraging them to help support people in Ukraine, before the strike last Thursday

She wrote online that they were trying to get counselling services for the volunteer, who is keen to get back to work as soon as possible.

Julie said: ‘Amber is literally blowing all the doctors away with the progress her body is making. She is leaving the ICU unit today at 4. She will stay in the burn center, but just not the ICU

‘Amber was able to take a few steps yesterday evening; it was painful, but her will is strong!! 

‘Please pray that today she will be able to take a few more steps than she did yesterday.

‘Please pray for the pain to be manageable. She is in a lot of pain!! The nurses were taking her to the shower when we just got off the phone with us.

‘They told her that it will be painful. We also need prayers for us to be strong, calm, and say the right words to help relax her.

‘Her short-term memory is still getting better, baby steps. I feel like we saw improvement in that yesterday.

A GoFundMe has been set up on her behalf, to help her pay for the medical bills, and has raised more than $36,000

A GoFundMe has been set up on her behalf, to help her pay for the medical bills, and has raised more than $36,000

The bolt of lightening dropping over DC on Thursday. It struck just across the street from the White House

The bolt of lightening dropping over DC on Thursday. It struck just across the street from the White House

Her family said that she was 'blowing all the doctors away' with her progress, and that she was initially placed on a ventilator as she was struggling to breathe

Her family said that she was ‘blowing all the doctors away’ with her progress, and that she was initially placed on a ventilator as she was struggling to breathe 

‘She did not ask the same questions every 20 minutes; it was about 2 to 3 hours in between. That is huge!’

The family added that Amber is ‘very scared’ and keeps asking what happened to her and is suffering from ‘survivors guilt.’

A GoFundMe has been set up on her behalf, to help her pay for the medical bills, and has raised more than $36,000. 

Paying tribute to Lambertson, a statement from City National Bank said he had managed sponsorships for the bank for the last three years. 

Previously he did marketing for the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, with the bank saying: ‘Brooks was an incredible young man who will be remembered for his generosity, kindness and unwavering positivity.

‘His sudden loss is devastating for all who knew him, and his family, friends and colleagues appreciate the thoughts and prayers that have poured in from around the country.’

Lambertson went to high school in Folsom, in Northern California, and graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Four people were left critically injured following a lightning strike in Washington's Lafayette Square near the White House on Thursday afternoon

Four people were left critically injured following a lightning strike in Washington’s Lafayette Square near the White House on Thursday afternoon

Officers of the US Secret Service and U.S. Park Police, which have a regular presence in the square, went to the assistance of the victims immediately

Officers of the US Secret Service and U.S. Park Police, which have a regular presence in the square, went to the assistance of the victims immediately

The Muellers were high school sweethearts who had travelled to Washington from their home in Janesville, Wisconsin, to celebrate more than half a century together.

‘They were high school sweethearts,’ their niece, Michelle McNett told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, ‘They had a whole itinerary. They were supposed to be at Mount Vernon today.’

Jim owned and still worked at a drywall company, though was mostly retired. Donna was a retired school teacher.

‘Both would do anything for family or friends,’ McNett said, ‘Jim would give you the shirt off his back.’ 

Secret Service officers and US Park Police saw the strike and went to the assistance of the victims immediately, Vito Maggiolo, a DC Fire and EMS spokesperson said. They administered CPR on the injured before they were taken to a nearby hospital.

Maggiolo said it was likely that the four people caught in the incident tried to seek shelter under the nearby tree when the storm passed along just before 7pm.

The Fire and EMS spokesperson noted that trees are not the ideal shelter during thunderstorms. 

‘Trees are not safe places,’ Maggiolo said. ‘Anybody that goes to seek shelter under a tree, that’s a very dangerous place to be.’

Chris Vagasky, an analyst for a national lightning network, told the Washington Post that there were a total of six ‘surges of electricity’ that struck the same point near the white house within half a second of each other at 6:49pm. 

Footage blurred by the heavy rain shows the fatal bolt striking across the street from the White House, which can be seen in the background

Footage blurred by the heavy rain shows the fatal bolt striking across the street from the White House, which can be seen in the background

Vito Maggiolo, a D.C. Fire and EMS spokesperson said it was likely that the four people caught in the incident tried to seek shelter under the nearby tree when the storm passed along just before 7pm

Vito Maggiolo, a D.C. Fire and EMS spokesperson said it was likely that the four people caught in the incident tried to seek shelter under the nearby tree when the storm passed along just before 7pm

Lafayette Square, a seven-acre public park that lies directly north of the White House, is often crowded with visitors, especially in the summer months

Lafayette Square, a seven-acre public park that lies directly north of the White House, is often crowded with visitors, especially in the summer months 

Lafayette Square, a seven-acre public park that lies directly north of the White House, is often crowded with visitors, especially in the summer months. 

A violent thunderstorm swept through the capital late in the day. 

The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the area between 6:30 and 7:15 pm, cautioning of wind gusts up to 60 mph. 

Temperatures in Washington exceeded 90 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday, although, with the high humidity, the heat felt like more than 100F, forecasters said. 

The powerful storms proceeding the heat have caused flooding in Baltimore and led to widespread blackouts in Maryland, with Gov. Larry Hogan reporting that more than 50,000 power outages in the state as of Thursday evening. 

 


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