BERKELEY TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A young lifeguard was killed by a lightning strike while on duty on Monday afternoon on the Jersey Shore.
Witnesses told CBS2’s Cory James the conditions were initially clear and sunny, leaving no signs that a dangerous storm was moving in. And it left them no time to take cover.
Abby Spurling was left stunned and holding back tears as she stood in front of the lifeguard chair that she said her friend, 19-year-old Keith Pinto, was in when he was tragically struck by lightning.
“He made everyone so happy. It doesn’t feel real. He was just an awesome person all around. It’s just … I’m speechless,” Spurling said.
#RIP: Friends of 19-year-old Keith Pinto say the community is heartbroken. They, along with his family, are devastated the young man with a big heart was killed by a lightning strike at South Seaside Park. At 11 hear how they want their beloved lifeguard to remembered @CBSNewYork pic.twitter.com/hzwIxHFs2H
— Cory James (@CoryJamesTV) August 31, 2021
The heartbreaking incident happened on the beach at South Seaside Park in Berkeley Township at around 4:30 p.m. Police said a total of eight people were injured, including four lifeguards.
“It was almost like a bomb went off,” said Vince Ruffolo, who was visiting from Wisconsin.
Ruffolo said he was with about 15 yards away with six friends when the force of the lightning strike knocked them to the ground.
“Next thing you know, one of our colleagues sees this young man fall off the chair, off the lifeguard, and then there were people in the area trying to work on him. You could smell like hair burning,” Ruffolo said.
Gov. Phil Murphy took to Twitter, saying his heart is with family and friends of the young lifeguard who died.
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.
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) August 30, 2021
Friends said Pinto was a young man who was an athlete who ran track at High School North, but most importantly a good man. That was clearly evident in the reaction of people dropping off flowers to honor a life gone too soon.
“It’s heartbreaking because someone from our graduating class is gone and he can’t experience life with the rest of us,” friend Giana Verlangieri said.
“He was never upset or afraid of anything. He always had a good time,” Spurling said.
“Our heart and prayers go to the family,” Ruffolo added.
Berkeley Township Mayor Carmen Amato Jr. expressed his condolences, saying Pinto was on the job every day protecting the lives of others.
The seven other victims were taken to local hospitals, but their conditions were not immediately known. Officials said the beach will be reopened for swimming on Friday.