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Lightning strike kills 19-year-old lifeguard, injures 7 other people at Jersey Shore beach

Earlier this month, a 16-year-old rookie lifeguard from Chester County died after an accident in the water off Cape May.

Berkeley Township photo of local beach.
Berkeley Township photo of local beach.Read moreBerkeley Township

A lightning strike killed a 19-year-old lifeguard and injured seven other people late Monday afternoon at the Jersey Shore, authorities said.

The incident occurred at approximately 4:35 p.m. at the 21st Avenue Beach in the South Seaside Park section of Berkeley Township in Ocean County, the township Police Department said.

Eight people, including four lifeguards, were hit by the lightning strike or were affected by residual lightning, police said in a statement.

Nineteen-year-old Keith Pinto of Toms River died from injuries caused by the strike, police said. The seven survivors were transported to area hospitals to be treated. Investigation into the incident is ongoing, police said.

Toms River Regional Schools spokesperson Michael Kenny said the district was “deeply saddened” to learn of the death of the 2020 graduate of High School North.

”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,” Kenny said. “Our hearts go out to Keith’s family and friends, and we wish them strength and comfort during this extremely difficult time.”

Gov. Phil Murphy issued a statement Monday evening on Pinto’s death and the others who were hurt.

“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. I’ve spoken to Mayor Carmen Amato and offered the full support and assistance of our administration during this difficult time.”

Amato said in an email: “This is a tragic and heartbreaking day for our town and the entire Jersey Shore.

“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.”

The township beaches will be closed to swimmers Tuesday through Thursday because lifeguards and other beach employees will have those days off, and crisis counselors will be made available for staff, police said. Investigation into the incident is ongoing, they said.

Earlier this month, Norman V. Inferrera III, a 16-year-old rookie lifeguard with the Cape May Beach Patrol died after he was knocked unconscious when a wave flipped his boat. Inferrera was an incoming junior at Phoenixville Area High School.

This is the ninth known lightning fatality of the year in the United States, and the second in New Jersey, according to John Jensenius on the National Lightning Safety Council. In the past 10 years, there has been a yearly average of 21 deaths through Aug. 30.

Staff writers Anthony R. Wood and Oona Goodin-Smith contributed to this article.