Ronald Kinsey, 39-year-old produce manager at an Arlington supermarket, loved boats. For months, he had been eying his neighbor's 18-foot fiberglass outboard. Two weeks ago, he bought it.
On Sunday, Kinsey took his family out for an afternoon of water-sking on the Potomac River of Fort Belvoir.
Caught in a sudden thunderstorm about 4 p.m., the Kinseys huddled in the boat's cockpit as Kinsey, nearly blinded by driving rain, tried to navigate the craft toward shore.
Then Ronald Kinsey stood up.
"I remember it was a second or two. And then the lightning hit him," his wife, Diane, 33, recalled yesterday. "It was like the whole world was coming down. The best shook. Ron was thrown back . . . his body was burned and discolored.
"His pretty blue eyes weren't pretty anymore."
The Kinses managed to get the boat to shore. Ater what seemed like "forever" to Diane Kinsey, a Fairfax County rescue squad arrrived and transported her husband to Mount Vernon Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
"He had burn marks across his back and shoulders," Diane Kinsey said yesterday, crying softly. "The doctor said he probably didn't know what hit him."
A spokesman for the Coast Guard's office of boating safety said yesterday Kinsey's death was the first time in recent history that a boater had been struck by lightning on the Potomac River.
The spokesman added that the chances of being hit while on a boat are "almost astronomical." The Coast Guard receives fewer than two or three reports of such accidents a year, he said, though three are more than 50 million boaters in the United States.
The Kinseys, their 18-year-old son David and David's teen-age girlfriend left their Alexandria home early Sunday afternoon for Pohick Park marina, two miles south of Mount Vernon, where Kinsey kept his boat.
"It was the second time we had been out," Diane Kinsey said.
"My husband used to own several boats years ago and this one belonged to a neighbor. Two weeks ago he and a friend bought it. He worked so hard, cleaning it up. He had just bought a two rope, so we were going to take the kids water-skiing."
The Kinseys left Pohick Bay and traveled into the Potomac.
"It looked dark," Diane Kinsey recalled, "but Ron said, "let's David ski. If the storm comes, we'll go to shore.' It started to rain and we got David back in the boat."
The family tried to keep dry under her canvas cover, but Diane Kinsey said her husband had put it on wrong and they couldn't pull it over them. 'I'm really scared of lightning," she said.
Kinsey tried to steer the boat for shore, hudding with his family and his son's friend. His wife remembers him trying to guide the boat to a nearby sailboat, but the dense rain made navigation almost impossible.
Kinsey stood up, straining for a better view.
"I knew the lightning had hit him," Diane Kinsey said yesterday. "I jumped up and pulled his hand off the throttle. My son and I yanked him free." Then, she said, "I went crazy."
The Kinseys steered the boat to shore and "somewhat, David and I pulled him off the boat. I wanted him to be alive. We gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. A guy ran over and told us to keep doing that, but he knew Ronald was dead. I didn't want to know. I always thought he was indestructibe."
The National Wheather Service said yesterday that a severe thunderstorm swept from west to east across the Potomac between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. Sunday, at one point stretching from south of National Airport to 20 miles west of the Patuxent River.
Typically, a weather spokesman said, the Washington area experiences 30 to 40 days of thunderstorms annually.
But local sailors said yesterday that incidents like the one involving the Kinseys are extremly rare. "I've never heard of a power boat being hit by lightning," said George Stevens, head of the Mariner Sailing School at Belle Heaven Marina south of Alexandria.
Stevens said boaters should carry a radio on board. "You can hear the lightning coming by the static. Then head to the closest shore and tie the boat up," he said.
On sailboats, Stevens said, "get the sails down as fast as you can, and if you're caught in the middle of Chesapeake Bay, drop your mast."
Diane Kinsey, meanwhile, sat at home yesterday surrounded by relatives and the couple's three children, two rom Ronald Kinsey's first marriage and 8-year-old son who was out of town on Sunday.
"I guess you can get hit by lightning anywhere," she said. "But I just can't believe he's gone. It's funny. He worked so hard to get that boat in shaped. We hadn't even named it yet." CAPTION: Picture 1, Ronald Kinsey's power boat: 'He worked so hard to get that boat in shape." By Douglas Chevailer -- The Washington Post; Picture 2, RONALD KINSEY