New Jersey

Teen Lifeguard Killed, 7 Others Hurt After Lightning Strikes NJ Beach

Keith Pinto, 19, died after a lightning strike on the 21st Avenue beach in Berkeley Township, New Jersey, Monday afternoon

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What to Know

  • New Jersey authorities say teenage lifeguard was killed and seven other people were injured when lightning struck a Jersey Shore beach Monday afternoon.
  • Nineteen-year-old Keith Pinto died in the lightning strike. It marked the second death of a young lifeguard at the Jersey Shore in a little over a week.
  • Three of those hurt were also lifeguards at the beach. The injured were taken to local hospitals with injuries that were not considered life-threatening. 

A lifeguard was killed while seven others, including three other lifeguards, were injured after lightning struck a beach in Ocean County, New Jersey.

Police were called around 4:35 p.m. Monday to a beach on 21st Avenue in Berkeley Township, near the entrance to Island Beach State Park, which is just south of Seaside Park as a cluster of storms moved over the area. 

Vince Ruffolo said he was relaxing with friends on the sand not far from the aluminum life guard stand near 21st Avenue when he felt a jolt and was then moved off his feet.

"Picture an explosion and an explosion happens all of a sudden, without giving you any warning," Ruffolo said. "Next thing you know you're on the ground and then you have an odor like burning hair. So it was very, very dramatic for us."

Lifeguard Keith Pinto, a 19-year-old from Toms River, was killed, Berkeley Township police said Tuesday.

Three other lifeguards and four beachgoers were hurt and taken to area hospitals, police said.

The seven survivors were taken to the hospital for treatment after suffering headaches, dizziness and hearing issues, law enforcement sources said.

Thomas Taberoni was at a beachfront house 100 yards away from the lifeguard stand, noticing that it was beginning to get cloudy, when he heard what he described as the loudest noise he had ever heard.

“Have you ever been to an air show when they break the sound barrier with that boom and you weren’t prepared for it?” he asked. "This was like 100 times louder than that.”

Lynda McHugh had just left the beach when she saw two large bolts of lightning come straight down. Within moments, people were running up the ramp from the beach and down the wooden stairs to safety.

“Our hearts are with the family and friends of the young lifeguard killed by today’s horrific lightning strike on the beach in Berkeley Township, and we pray for a full recovery for those injured," New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement. "I’ve spoken to Mayor Carmen Amato and offered the full support and assistance of our administration during this difficult time.”

Amato said his township's beaches will be closed Tuesday through Thursday as crisis counselors are made available to beach staff and lifeguards. Four of those struck were lifeguards and four others were beachgoers.

“This is a tragic and heartbreaking day for our town and the entire Jersey Shore," Amato said in a statement. “This young person was out there every day protecting the lives of others. Our lifeguard teams, like so many along the shore, develop special connections with our community throughout the summer, which makes this loss even greater.

“On behalf of myself and our entire community, I offer our deepest and most heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of this young man," he said.

A handwritten note in purple ink was left with flowers Monday night at the base of a lifeguard stand at the beach.

“We were at the beach today and are grateful for what you've done for us by keeping us safe at the beach," the note read. "We are so sorry for your loss.”

A vigil was held Tuesday night for 19-year old lifeguard Keith Pinto who died Monday in Berkeley Township, Ocean City, after a lightning strike.

Pinto's cousin, Lindsey Pinto, said that "everybody wanted to be around him" while calling her family member "a beautiful soul." "We all love him so much."

Monday's incident is the ninth confirmed lightning fatality in the U.S. this year, according to the National Lightning Safety Council. The last lightning death was on Aug. 24 in Wisconsin.

The last lightning death in New Jersey occurred on June 9 at a golf course in Burlington County.

Data from the National Lightning Safety Council.

It is also the second New Jersey lifeguard death just this month.

On Aug. 20, 16-year-old lifeguard Norman Inferrera III died a day after an accident in Cape May, on New Jersey's southern tip. A lifeboat he was rowing was struck by a wave and flipped over, knocking him unconscious, authorities said.

The line-of-duty deaths were extremely unusual for lifeguards, according to Tom Gill, a spokesperson for the U.S. Lifesaving Association. He said the two New Jersey deaths in less than two weeks were just the second and third he can recall in the last 30 to 40 years.

“This just doesn't happen,” Gill said. “For two fatalities in such a short time frame in the same general area, this is a tragedy beyond measure.”

Correction (Aug. 31, 7:28 a.m.): An earlier version of the story misstated the location where the lightning strike took place. The incident took place in Berkeley Township just south of Seaside Park.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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