Lightning hits Ford courthouse

Lightning hits Ford courthouse

PAXTON — A lightning strike caused a "large power surge" at the Ford County Courthouse and sheriff's office complex Friday, temporarily disrupting the radio and emergency dispatching systems at the sheriff's office and prompting a brief evacuation of the courthouse, officials said.

No serious injuries were reported. An employee of the probation department, however, was taken by ambulance to Gibson Area Hospital for a "precautionary evaluation," Sheriff Mark Doran said.

"She was on the phone when it hit and felt an electrical surge," Chief Probation Officer Cassy Taylor-Morris said. "She seemed OK. She was up and talking. They're just checking her out to make sure she's OK."

The lightning strike occurred at 10:37 a.m., and immediately afterward, courthouse employees smelled smoke, Doran said. They were evacuated, but were allowed to return to work after Paxton firefighters completed a search of the courthouse.

Capt. Bobby Kingren of the Paxton Fire Protection District said there was no fire found, just smoke in the boiler room in the basement.

Doran said the courthouse and sheriff's office/jail complex never lost power, but the telephone system there and at the courthouse, as well as the courthouse's elevator and camera system were all "knocked out" following the lightning strike. Doran added that "there are a lot of computer issues that need to be evaluated and addressed."

The emergency radio system at the sheriff's office/jail complex was out of service for about five hours, officials said. Until about 3:30 p.m., when Ford County's 911 service was restored, dispatching was handled by Ford County's 911 backup in Piatt County.

Service repair companies were contacted, Doran said, noting that "they are either already here working on the issues or are in route."

"All that can be done now is to see what is damaged and fix the problems as they are identified," Doran said.

The jail systems remained fully operational after the lightning strike, and there were no problems with the security of the inmates, Doran said.

There was no structural damage to the courthouse or sheriff's office reported.

Some courthouse employees said they could see a "blue flash" when the lightning hit, apparently on the courthouse's east side, where a 200-foot-tall radio tower stands.

At the time, Taylor-Morris and other probation department employees were in their offices in the courthouse basement.

"I'm not sure if (the flash) came from out the window or where it was coming from, but we saw a blue flash, and we heard the elevator drop (as it lost power)," Taylor-Morris said. "It shook people up pretty bad."

County Treasurer Judy Hastings said she and her employees on the courthouse's main floor were at their desks when they heard thunder.

"About that time, 'boom!' We saw blue light out the east window next to the (radio) tower (on the east side of the building)," Hastings said. "It was a glow of fire. It looked like it was at the base of the tower there. And then our computers all went down."

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JeffCarroll wrote on March 02, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Hopefully Marty made it back in time.