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Lone survivor of White House lightning strike is Newbury Park woman

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Lightning strike near White House injures 4 Thursday evening, officials say
Four people were struck by lightning Thursday evening and are hospitalized with critical life-threatening injuries, according to D.C. Fire and EMS.

The lone survivor of a lightning strike that killed three people near the White House on Thursday night is a 28-year-old woman from Newbury Park.

Amber Escudero-Kontostathis is in stable condition in a Washington, D.C.-area hospital after being revived on-site by a defibrillator used by the U.S. Secret Service, according to her mother.

“The Secret Service men saved her,” said Julie Escudero. “I’ve been trying to find out their names so I can personally thank them. They revived her.”

Escudero-Kontostathis was working for Threshold Giving, a nonprofit advocacy group for refugees, on her 28th birthday in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. when she was caught in a thunderstorm.   

She was among a group of people seeking refuge from the rain in a grove of trees when it was struck by a powerful series of lightning strikes.

“There were six lightning bolts that hit that spot within a half of a second,” Escudero said.

Lightning analyst Chris Vagasky told the Washington Post that there was a “six-stroke flash near the White House that hit the same point on the ground” at 6:49 p.m.

The location of the strike meant that there were already first responders on scene, said Vito Maggiolo, a spokesperson for the District of Columbia Fire and EMS Department.

“The U.S Secret Service uniform division and U.S. Park Police both witnessed the strike and immediately began rendering medical aid to the four victims,” Maggiolo said. “We had a very robust initial response.”

A doctor vacationing from Germany and two medics from Texas were also among the strike’s witnesses who rushed to help, according to Escudero-Kontostathis’ family.

“Luckily, there were enough people in the vicinity that had medical experience,” said her father, Bob Escudero. “There were a lot of people in the right place at the right time to do what they could.”

Four victims suffered critical injuries and were taken to area hospitals, according to Maggiolo.

What happened: 3 dead, 1 injured in lightning strike near White House

Donna Mueller, 75, and James Mueller, 76, a couple from Janesville, Wisconsin, celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary, and Brooks A. Lambertson, 29, a Los Angeles bank employee, have been identified among the dead, according to authorities.

Escudero-Kontostathis suffered burns down the left side of her body, near where she held the bag carrying her electronic devices, and was initially too weak to walk, according to her parents.

But she was strong enough to come off the respirator on Friday and was moved from the intensive care unit to the burn center on Saturday, when she took her first steps since the strike.

“The trauma doctor came up yesterday and said she’s an ‘absolute miracle,’” said Julie Escudero, who believes the Dr. Martens boots her daughter wore, with thick rubber soles, contributed to her survival.

The Escudero family, who still live in Newbury Park, rushed to Washington, D.C. to support their daughter and her husband.

“I’m pretty confident that my daughter is going to be walking out of this hospital,” Julie Escudero said.

Family friends Alison Dobner and Malena Murray have organized a GoFundMe page to help Escudero-Kontostathis with medical costs. The fund had surpassed $19,000 as of Saturday afternoon.

Escudero-Kontostathis is a 2012 graduate of Newbury Park High, where she played soccer and golf.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in international studies from Pepperdine University and is scheduled to start a master’s degree program at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies next month.

“That is her dream school,” Escudero said. 

Escudero-Kontostathis was drawn to the nation’s capital by her passion for human rights. Her work with Threshold Giving helps support the International Rescue Committee, the humanitarian organization founded by Albert Einstein.

“She was always concerned with human rights,” said Bob Escudero. “It’s almost like she wants to jump out of bed and get back to work.”

Joe Curley is a staff reporter for the Star. He can be reached at joe.curley@vcstar.com. Follow him @vcsjoecurley on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


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