Flood Warning issued September 21 at 8:56PM EDT expiring September 26 at 2:00PM EDT in effect for: Hillsborough
Sam Sepulveda thought Thursday would be a great day at the beach with his girlfriend.
He looked at the weather and saw all the storms south of St. Pete Beach. So he decided to stay close to Clearwater and relax on the beach at Sand Key Park.
"I would say we are in the water five minutes and I hear thunder,” Sepulveda said. “I said, ‘We gotta go.’ We packed everything up."
"When I bent down to pick up my bag. I saw a bright ray of light, which blinded me, and then I felt something shoot up my thumb on my left hand,” said Ann Cruz, his girlfriend.
The last thing Sepulveda said he remembers was rolling his cooler.
“Then I just went flying into the sand," he said.
A lightning bolt hit close enough to Sepulveda that it not only threw his big frame, he couldn't move.
"Tingling, burning,” he said, describing what he felt. “Even when I got to the hospital for a while it was like that. It was like that until the next day."
Another beachgoer heard Cruz's calls for help after the lightning strike and called paramedics.
Sepulveda believes the one firefighter not treating him actually saved his life with his voice.
"He kept saying, ‘Can you open your eyes a little bit? Can you squeeze my finger?’ I just remember hearing it. To me that made all the difference in the world," he said.
He felt himself giving up and slipping away, but that one voice in the chaos kept him here.
“If it wasn't for that, I felt like I would have been dead," he said.
Doctors said he has a long way to go. Sepulveda is on medication and will see a slew of specialists, but he's alive.
He came home from the hospital in his Tampa Bay Buccaneers shirt. He said it's rare to be hit by lightning and survive. So now he believes it's a sign he will see the Bucs in the Super Bowl.