It was her favorite place to be — the beach. And on Wednesday, Lottie Michelle Belk was at Virginia Beach, celebrating her birthday and a marriage anniversary when a rare, tragic accident happened.
A big gust of wind lifted a beach umbrella out of the sand, blew it down, and struck Belk in the torso. She later died at a Virginia Beach hospital.
The incident unfolded about 5 p.m. near 33rd Street. Belk, 55, of Chester, Va., was at the beach with her family, according to several media reports.
Hugh Martin was a witness to the incident. He told television station CBS 6 that he saw the umbrella “go up in the air, and literally hit” Belk. She was knocked to her side, Martin said.
“It was probably the most scariest thing I’ve ever seen,” Martin told CBS.
One of Belk’s daughters, Ashley Denton, told the Virginian Pilot that her mother’s favorite place was the beach. A family member is said to have gotten help from a lifeguard after Belk was struck by the umbrella. The lifeguard gave Belk first aid, and rescuers arrived quickly, according to the Virginian Pilot.
Local rescue officials said Belk was in cardiac arrest when they arrived.
“She wasn’t breathing when we got there,” Ed Brazle, interim chief of the Virginia Department of Emergency Medical Services, told the Virginian Pilot.
Virginia Beach police said an investigation found that a “strong gust of wind blew” the umbrella across the beach and “struck her in the torso” according to Officer Tonya Pierce, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Beach Police Department. Police said there is no evidence of foul play.
Virginia Beach is a popular summer destination. It is about 200 miles southeast of Washington and has about 2.75 million visitors a year, officials said.
While incidents have happened with beach umbrellas, it is rare for one to result in a death, many local rescuers said. A man from Henrico County in Virginia lost his eye after a wind-blown beach umbrella struck him last year at Bethany Beach in Delaware.
Brazle, a 20-year veteran of emergency services at the state’s medical services agency, said, “from time to time, people get hit by flying umbrellas or flying debris.” But, he said, “I’ve never heard of someone dying.”
Pierce called Belk’s case a “horrific accident,” and said that it was considered a “death due to nature.” In her 25 years with the police department, Pierce said she had “never heard” of anything similar to this incident.
Police in Virginia Beach said they think Belk was hit with the tip of the umbrella. Donna Price, administrator for the medical examiner’s Tidewater District, said the cause of death for Belk was penetrating blunt force chest trauma, according to local news outlets.
Denton told CBS 6 that her mother had recently graduated from Strayer University after earning her master’s degree in business and had a career in the mental health field.
She described her as a “loving lady.” Belk is survived by two daughters, a stepson, a stepdaughter, and a husband, according to CBS 6.
A neighbor and friend of Belk’s — Karen West Moten — described Belk as someone who enjoyed “interacting with the kids” at her church.
“She had a wonderful spirit,” West Moten told ABC’s local affiliate. “She just loved life and loved people.”