Wife says husband was electrocuted, not hit by lightning

The Fresno BeeMarch 1, 2014 

Jesse Fox of Fresno remained in critical condition Saturday night at Community Regional Medical Center.


A 36-year-old man who reportedly was struck by lightning Friday southwest of Fresno actually was electrocuted while working, his wife said Saturday.

Jesse Fox of Fresno remained in critical condition Saturday evening at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, a hospital official confirmed.

Jolene Fox said her husband was working on a water well drilling rig near Raisin City about 11:15 a.m. when he was electrocuted.

Worker Chris Nunn said he saw Fox fall to the ground but saw no lightning. Fox was shocked when a cable he was pulling from the rig touched a nearby electrical line, Nunn said.

But the rig's owner, Tony S. Priest Jr., said Saturday that Fox and Nunn "do not work for me, nor have they ever worked for me."

On Friday the Fresno County Sheriff's Office had reported Fox's injury was due to a lightning strike and noted more than once that Fox was not a drilling rig employee. The news release stated workers "later discovered the man unresponsive," and that "he was never working at the location and there were no witnesses to his injury."

A deputy with the Fresno County Sheriff's Office will write up a new report with information obtained from Jolene Fox and Nunn, Lt. Jose Salinas said Saturday.

The updated report will likely be forwarded to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for possible further investigation, Salinas said.

Although the Sheriff's Office news release Friday said "injuries consistent with a lightning strike were confirmed at Community Regional Medical Center," Jolene Fox said a nurse tending to her husband told her that if he had been struck by lightning, he would have had more burns.

The nurse also told her that Jesse Fox was dead for several minutes before he was revived by CPR.

Mary Lisa Russell, spokeswoman for Community Regional, said she could not say how Fox was injured because of patient privacy laws.

Jolene Fox said Priest recruited her husband from another water drilling business in Caruthers, and Friday was his first day on the job.

But Priest denied that he hired Fox. "I did not offer him a job and I never told him to come to my job site," Priest said.

According to Priest, Fox and Nunn did "no work at all" that day. Priest said he received a call from the men that morning, asking whether he could meet them at the drilling site. Priest said he drove over to the site to tell them no one was supposed to be working and to leave.

But Nunn said he and Fox had been working for about 30 to 40 minutes before Fox was injured. Priest and another worker were at the site to show them what work they wanted done, Nunn said, and Priest was on the rig when Fox was electrocuted.

As Fox was pulling the cable from the rig, Nunn said, he saw "his arms shoot out, and then he fell over."

Then, Nunn said, Priest yelled, "He was struck by lightning."

But "there was no lightning," Nunn said. "I was surprised that he came up with that, that quickly. Maybe he believed that."

Nunn said he helped lift Fox, who was unresponsive, blue and not breathing, into the bed of a truck, and then Priest sped off. Fox was driven to nearby Manning and Grantland avenues, where a deputy and paramedics assisted him.

Priest said he drove Fox away from the job site because the ground was muddy, and he worried emergency personnel wouldn't be able to reach the rig.

Jolene Fox said Priest is an acquaintance of the family, and that he called her at the hospital to check on her husband's condition.

He is showing signs of improvement, she said. At 7 p.m. Saturday, he was responsive and awake but still was connected to a breathing tube, his wife said. Doctors would determine whether the tube could be removed Saturday evening, she said.

Jesse Fox, born and raised in Fresno, has worked as a roughneck on rigs since his early 20s, previously in Caruthers and before that on oil rigs in Texas, his wife said. He has three children, two girls ages 1 and 6 and a 3-year-old son.


The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6386, cgeorge@fresnobee.com or @CarmenGeorge.

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