By Chris Lundy and Alyssa Riccardi
BERKELEY – An online fundraiser was started to cover funeral expenses for a lifeguard who was struck by lightning.
Keith Pinto was working at the White Sands beach on August 30, when a sudden storm tore through the county. Pinto, 19, was killed and seven others were wounded.
“Words cannot describe how so many of us are feeling right now,” said Chase Vander Vliet, who organized the fundraiser. “We lost a special guy tonight, one who was so close and meant so much to so many people.”
“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. Keith has left behind an overwhelming amount of amazing memories that will live in our hearts forever. All donations will go directly to Keith’s family for the proper goodbye that he deserves. Our hearts are broken by what happened and all our love and support goes out to the Pinto family and all others affected by this tragedy. We’re gonna miss you so much brother,” Vander Vliet wrote.
Pinto was a graduate of Toms River High School North. He was known for his kindness and his dedication to his loved ones. His death impacted a lot of people who took to social media to share their feelings.
“As a family with our own lifeguards here at the Jersey Shore, the loss of Berkeley Township lifeguard Keith Pinto hits very close to home. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Pinto family during this terrible time,” the Maruca family said.
“Many daily beach go-ers get to know their lifeguards on a first name basis. Be sure to thank your guards when leaving the beach each day. Every summer we see each township’s beach patrol form a tight bond. We are praying for the entire Berkeley Township Beach Patrol during this difficult time,” they said. “Thank you to the men and women who guard our beaches and keep us safe. They are the unsung heroes of the Jersey Shore… the first responders of summer.”
White Sands is in the South Seaside Park section of Berkeley Township between 21st and 23rd streets. The tragedy happened around 4:30 p.m., and four out of the eight total victims were lifeguards.
Berkeley Township Police Chief Kevin H. Santucci said that first aid and advanced life support was rendered to the victims. The survivors were taken to Community Medical Center in Toms River for treatment after suffering headaches, dizziness and hearing issues.
“This is a tragic and heartbreaking day for our town and the entire Jersey Shore,” Mayor Carmen Amato said. “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.”
Amato added “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.”
Governor Phil Murphy issued a statement shortly after the incident. “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,” he said. “I’ve spoken to Mayor Carmen Amato and offered the full support and assistance of our administration during this difficult time.”
According to police, Berkeley Township’s ocean beaches will be closed for swimming on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday but open to sunbathers. Lifeguards and staff will be off the next three days and crisis counselors will be available for beach staff employees.