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Three Campers Killed By Lightning As Tent Pole Conducts Charge

July 28, 1987 GMT

DARIEN, N.Y. (AP) _ Three young men whose bodies were found Tuesday at a hilltop campsite were killed when lightning struck a metal tent pole, officials said.

″It is a metal rod sticking in the air with wet lines around it,″ said State Police Sgt. Patrick O’Reilly. ″It would be a natural attraction to lightning.″

Bradley Paul, director of marketing for the Darien Lake Theme Park and Campgrounds about 30 miles east of Buffalo, said the bodies were discovered Tuesday morning by security guards patrolling the campground.

Two of the victims shared a tent and the third was in a tent six feet away.

O’Reilly said the preliminary finding by the Erie and Genesee County medical examiners’ offices is that the three were electrocuted during a storm that swept through the Darien Lake theme park between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. Sunday. Authorities believe the three died instantly.

The three dead men were identified as Andrew Lather, 18, Kelly Hilts, 20, and Jeffrey Smith, 17, all of Vernon, N.Y., halfway between Syracuse and Utica.

The tents were pitched in an open area with no trees nearby.

″It’s kind of like the golfer. There can be trees around, but if he’s out there alone, he gets it,″ said police Investigator Terry Rodland.

According to the National Safety Council, 93 people were killed by lightning strikes nationwide in 1983, the latest reporting year. Between four and six people are killed by lightning in New York each year.