‘We lost a special guy’ — NJ lifeguard killed by lightning was Toms River North grad
BERKELEY — Flowers and messages were left at the stand where a lifeguard was struck and killed by lightning on Monday.
Police Chief Kevin Santucci identified the lifeguard as Keith Pinto, a 19-year-old from Toms River.
Pinto was fatally struck by lightning on the 21st Avenue Beach in Berkeley Township on Monday afternoon that injured seven others.
"We were at the beach today and are grateful for what you've done by keeping us safe at the beach. We are so sorry for your loss," read one handwritten note in purple ink.
All the beaches in Berkeley are closed to swimmers until Friday as the lifeguards have been given time off to grieve, according to Mayor Carmen Amato. Crisis counselors will be available to them next to Ocean Mental Health on Route 9.
"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.
The borough of Seaside Park said it would accept South Seaside Park/Berkeley beach badges while the beaches are closed.
"We again want to extend our deepest condolences to all touched by the tragedy that occurred Monday," the borough wrote on its Facebook page.
Pinto ran track at Toms River High School North where he was a member of the Class of 2020. He attended Ocean County College, according to his Facebook page.
"We are deeply saddened to learn of the tragic loss of High School North graduate Keith Pinto," district spokesman Michael Kenny said in a written statement.
"Hearing and reading from those who knew Keith best remind us that he was—and will forever remain—an integral part of the High School North community, someone who was a true source of joy and who lifted the spirits of everyone around him. Our hearts go out to Keith’s family and friends, and we wish them strength and comfort during this extremely difficult time."
A GoFundMe page was created to help with funeral expenses.
"We lost a special guy tonight, one who was so close and meant so much to so many people," the fund's creator Chase Vander Vliet wrote. "It would be impossible to get it all into words how much our friend meant to us but we all know how amazing he was."
Sky was 'crystal clear blue'
Seaside Heights Lifeguard Capt. Robert Connor told New Jersey 101.5 he was with a group of his lifeguards that saw the lightning as they were clearing their beach.
"There was a big cloud on top of Seaside Heights but when you looked to the south towards Island Beach State Park, it was crystal clear blue," Connor said. “We saw the bolt that caused this. We knew it wasn’t good and then reports started coming in. Then 10 minutes later there’s a rainbow over Seaside Heights. It’s a dangerous situation."
The storm generated the lightning was not directly overhead and just can't be predicted, according to New Jersey 101.5 Chief Meteorologist Dan Zarrow.
"All the forecasts for stormy weather and all the technology at our disposal, and unfortunately we just can't predict a freak 'bolt out of the blue' accident like this," Zarrow said. "Even though the thunderstorm at the northern end of Seaside was spitting out a lot of lightning, that cell was a full four miles away from the White Sands Beach at the time."
Zarrow said the incident was a tragic reminder that it doesn't have to be raining for lightning to be dangerous.