Lightning struck twice in Drawdy Park

Heyward Mattox, left, Jeff Mattox, back center, Dee Mattox, front center, and Russell Price. | Darlene Embleton

WINNSBORO – July 19, 1993.  Winnsboro resident, Dee Mattox recalled that day 25 years ago when lightning struck twice in the same place.

“I remember it vividly,” Mattox recalled, “even the smell of burnt flesh.  My family and I were attending an All Star Little League game at Drawdy Park being played between Winnsboro and Mullins. The game had to be called because a violent thunderstorm had moved in.”

According to a story printed in the Herald Independent, witnesses reported that a flash of lightening hit a large oak tree near a car belonging to the Gasque family from Mullins. Dale Gasque, his wife and daughter Amy were sitting in the car at the time.

“We heard a loud noise when the lightning hit,” a witness who asked not to be identified, was quoted in the news article. “I think the three in the car were scared when the lightning hit so close, so they got out of their car.”

Heyward and Dee Mattox and their son, 11-year-old Jae, were sitting in their car not far away when they saw the lightning strike.

“My first memory after the initial strike is seeing Russell Price run over to the car to check on the family parked beneath the tree,” Jae recalled in a Facebook post last Thursday, the anniversary of the strike.

Mattox said some who were at the park reported that Gasque, who was outside of his family’s vehicle surveying the situation, commented that he was safe because lightning never strikes the same spot twice.

Just minutes later, the second lightning strike hit a tree in the same area.

Already a nurse of 15 years, Dee jumped from her car and ran to the scene.

“They were all unconscious,” Dee recalled.  “But I could smell the burned flesh and Dale’s skin was blue and purple.  He was not breathing and he had no pulse.  I immediately started CPR,” recalled Mattox, who was also an American Heart Basic Life Support Instructor then and now.

Right there in the pouring down rain, with lightning and thunder still rampant, Mattox is credited with saving Gasque’s life.

“There were many heroes that day and it would never have worked without everyone working together,” Mattox said.  “Jeff Wade (a SC Highway Patrol Trooper) assisted with the CPR. Jeff Mattox took care of the other members of the family, someone called 911, Russell Price and many of the men there carried Dale to a place where we could do more effective CPR. Many people in their own way were heroes that day. I do believe God put us all there for a reason,” Mattox said. “It was 15 or 20 minutes before the ambulance came but it felt like forever.”

The Herald reported that the other occupants of the car, Beverly Gasque and her daughter Anna, regained consciousness and were driven to the hospital by Jeff Mattox.  In a Facebook post, Jeff said he remembers that their shoes were smoking. Beverly Gasque, responded that, indeed, she still has the tennis shoes with the insides melted and holes burned in them.

Dale Gasque survived the ordeal, as did the whole family.

“We actually stayed in touch with them over the years,” Dee said.  “I understand their daughter Anna became a nurse as a result of being influenced by the event.”

Anna Gasque Johnson said she felt her family was blessed with a true miracle that day in Dee Mattox and that she (Mattox) was the reason she and her brother, Luke, still had a daddy and her children had a Papa.

As fate would have it, sons from both families, Jae Mattox and Luke Gasque, attended the Citadel at the same time. Dale and Beverly Gasque still live in Mullins, SC, and now have three grandchildren.

“God works in mysterious ways,” Mattox said.  “I recently got a text from Anna Gasque Johnson, that she was able to ‘pay it forward’ when she performed CPR on a stranger at a Clemson ball game.”

Mattox said she encourages everyone to take a day to learn CPR.

“It works,” she said. “I don’t think there would be anything worse than to stand by and watch someone die who could have been saved. And that someone may be someone you love. God put us here to take care of each other.”

And that is exactly what she and others did 25 years ago, in the pouring rain and violent lightning at Drawdy Park.