Parents of lightning victim donate safety equipment to local schools

Jesse Watlington Memorial Foundation pledges to donate 50 lightning detectors

ORLANDO, Fla. – Chuck and Alda Watlington have made it their mission to protect the state's children from lightning strikes. 

[WEB EXTRA: Click here for more info, to donate ]

The Watlingtons set up The Jesse Watlington Memorial Foundation in memory of their son. Jesse Watlington, 11, was struck and killed in October 2012. He was on a football practice field at his school in Ft. Myers.

"I looked out the window and the sky was black all across the horizon and you could see lightning strikes in different directions," Chuck Watlington recalls seeing the storm from a few miles away. "Ten minutes later I got a call from my wife that she just got the call that no parent should ever get. Jesse was struck by lightning."

Watlington says as Jesse lay face down on the field, his coaches were unable to help. He says they were never trained in CPR. 

"The two first responders to our son, the head coach and assistant coach, didn't know CPR," he says.  "The school had an AED defibrillator, nobody made an attempt to even go get one because no one there had ever had instruction on how to use one."

The one thing the school did not have:  A permanently mounted lightning detector. One that would send out an alarm when lightning was nearby. Watlington says the school used a portable unit. "It was turned off and sitting in a storage closet of the athletic director's office 1000 yards away."

After a settlement with the school, the Watlingtons have pledged to purchase state of the art Weather Bug lightning detectors for at least 50 private high schools in the state.

"[Portable detectors] they're just open to too much human error. You need a system on the building where the sound goes off then there's no more debate. There's not one child that's going to be left on that field."

The Watlington's say the foundation is a way to honor their son. 

"All expenses for the foundation are coming out of our personal pocket," Watlington says. "That's the way it's got to be. Our son gave his life to this cause, the least we can do is give every dime to it."

Five schools have already benefited from the Watlington's generosity. 39 others are in various stages of installation or school approval. Each unit is valued at $10-thousand dollars. The Jesse Watlington Memorial Foundation also covers the first year of monitoring. 

Two schools in Central Florida already have the systems installed. The First Academy has two on their large campus  and Orlando Christian Prep has one as well.

The Watlington's hope to keep the foundation funded with donations. After the first 50 Weather Bug detectors have been donated, they want to continue donating to schools throughout the entire "lightning belt" of the United States.

If you would like to donate, please visit LightningFoundation.org

About the Author: