NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – An assistant New York State Attorney General was killed Thursday in Brooklyn after lightning struck the rooftop of a church as he was walking past.
Richard Schwartz, 61, died at the hospital. He was walking by Christ Church in Cobble Hill around 8 p.m. when witnesses said a sudden bolt of lightning hit one of the four steeples.
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“There was a huge flash of lightning right above the church and I thought what I was hearing was thunder, it was that loud,” said witness Nicole Wheir, who lives next door to the church. ”It sounded like a subway coming in.”
Authorities said the lightning strike sent the spire on the church tower crashing into the sanctuary, unleashing an avalanche of large rocks that crashed onto some scaffolding which then collapsed onto Schwartz as he was walking by.
He was taken to a nearby hospital where he died.
“It’s awful. The church has been here for a long time. To have it just collapse like that,” said resident Martin Weiss.
“I feel sorry for his family,” said neighbor Joe Ignari. ”I know he’s got a young daughter, that she used to come and visit him.”
Church Rector, Rev. Ronald Lau, said the scaffolding went up about a month ago. A notice outside the church said the tower was being examined for wear and tear after a previous lightning strike and last year’s earthquake that hit the city.
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“I’m rather speechless. I’m devastated. I’m extremely sad,” Lau said. “On the other hand, I profess a religion that is full of hope and resurrection and that is my hope for what’s going to happen here.”
Lau said the Diocese was responsible for putting up the scaffolding.
“I’m not an architect, not an engineer,” Lau said. ”I’m a priest.”
Schwartz served in the Attorney General’s Office for 25 years and was just blocks from his home when the storm hit.
In a statement Friday, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Schwartz was an expert in anti-trust cases and “served the people of New York State with integrity.”
“New York is a better place because of Richard’s commitment to fairness and legal excellence,” said Schneiderman. “Richard’s loved ones are in our thoughts and prayers as we mourn the untimely loss of one of our own.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo called Schwartz “a dedicated public servant.”
“His commitment to placing the needs of New Yorkers above all else will be remembered and cherished,” Cuomo said. ”His work ethic and his passion were an inspiration to all who had the privilege of knowing him. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends and colleagues with whom he worked during his many years in state service.”
Schwartz was divorced and has a daughter in college.
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