Man struck by lightning died doing what he loved

Burnette Hayes lived for family first, then fishing and just plain old having fun.

"He really was a character," said daughter Sharee Hayes, 19. "He was the life of the party, always cracking jokes. Whenever the family got together, we'd all be waiting on him to come. We couldn't start without him."

Monday, his family was preparing for his funeral after he was struck and fatally injured by lightning.

The father of five sons and four daughters — from 35 to 5 years old — was the family's glue, his daughter added. "There's one person who always keeps the family together. Usually, it's like a grandmother. In our family, it was Burnette Hayes."

On Friday, Hayes, 52, was doing his second favorite thing. The retired Peachtree City truck driver was fishing on Lake Peachtree with a neighbor. He loved fishing and did it regularly, his family said. Often his catches overflowed the refrigerator, and he generously shared with friends and family, said Yolanda Smith Hayes, his wife of 20 years.

She said she called her husband at the lake early Friday afternoon.

"He didn't sound too good, so I asked him to come home and make a sandwich, in case his blood sugar was low," she said. "He came home, made the sandwich and got watermelon for his fishing buddy."

His son Julius, 19, drove him back to the lake.

When Yolanda Hayes went out shortly after her husband left home with his sandwich, the skies were beginning to darken with storm clouds. She said, "My gut feeling was to go over there and check on him. I wish I had."

A thunderstorm rolled through the area, and the two men took refuge under a pine tree on the edge of the lake. A bolt of lightning hit the tree, knocking Hayes and his friend to the ground. The shock sent Hayes into cardiac arrest, which eventually took his life Saturday.

His friend, who authorities have not identified, remains in the hospital.

On Monday, Yolanda Hayes was planning the funeral for the man who did all the cooking and taught his daughters to cook.

He also taught his sons to be strong men, said Burnette Hayes Jr., 21. "He taught me never to run from your problems or fears because at the end of the day, you have to stand there and face them. That's what men do," the son said.

Yolanda Hayes said a difficult part of losing her husband is explaining his absence to his 5-year-old son, whom he doted on. "It's hard on him. He keeps asking to go see his dad."

A college fund has been set up for Burnette Hayes' children at Delta Community Credit Union, according to Yolanda Hayes.

Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Brad Nitz reminds metro Atlantans that if "you're close enough to a storm to hear thunder, you're close enough to be struck by lightning - even with sunshine above."

According to the National Weather Service, an average of 54 people are killed by lightning in the U.S. each year, and hundreds are permanently injured. When you hear thunder, you should seek shelter in a building or hard-top vehicle and wait at least 30 minutes after a storm has passed before resuming outdoor activities, according to NWS' safety tips.