Motorcycle rider hit by lightning

by: Richard Thompson Updated:


CHEHALIS, Wash. - Martin Zapalac was driving north on I-5 in Chehalis Thursday morning in heavy rain. There was a motorcycle right in front of him and then, says Zapalac, a brilliant flash of silver light. "All of the sudden, boom, his helmet lit up and it looked like it hit right on top of his helmet."

Zapalac watched as the rider slumped over but managed to stay on the bike and pull it off to the side of the freeway. Zapalac parked and ran up to the man. "I said are you OK?’ and he said 'why am I stopped here?' and I said 'well you just got hit by lightning.'"

The motorcycle rider, Michael LaDue, managed to ride his bike another half mile to an exit and made it to an AM/PM gas station. Zapalac says LaDue could not hear and took his helmet off. "When he took his helmet off the whole side of his head the hair was singed off and his ears were burnt around the edges," said Zapalac.

Paramedics arrived to treat the injured man who showed store clerk Brandi Abrego the inside of his helmet which was cracked and partially melted. Abrego spoke with LaDue. "He said he felt really, really hot and he grabbed my hand and he was really, really hot to the touch." 

LaDue's wife Buffy came to the Chehalis Fire Department to check on her husband's motorcycle and thank those who helped her husband. "I'm very thankful to the fire department and the EMT's, thank you." 

Thursday night Ladue was in satisfactory condition at Harborview Medical Center. In addition to the damage to his helmet, LaDue's bike has some scorch marks near the antenna. He is part of a motorcycle group called The Iron Butt Association, whose members take extremely long distance trips and pride themselves on being tough. The bracket around his license plate reads "The world's toughest motorcycle riders." Chehalis Fire Captain Kevin Kurfman, who helped treat LaDue, says he can't argue with that. "I think that sounds very fitting for him right now."