🌩 Man dies trying to get kids off the beach in Seaside Park

🌩 A dangerous lightning storm was approaching Sunday evening

🌩 Patrick Dispoto of Toms River remembered as a hero

He is being remembered as a "cowboy hero."

Patrick Dispoto was rarely without his signature cowboy hat. Friends and family say the only thing bigger than that hat was his heart.

The Toms River man was on the beach in Seaside Park on Sunday with his girlfriend, Ruth.

When dark clouds formed and began moving toward the beach, Dispoto was well aware of the danger posed by lightning storms.

According to reporting by News 12 New Jersey, after he got Ruth safely into his truck, he went back over the dunes to warn a group of youths who were still on beach. It was around 7 p.m. and the lifeguards had gone home for the day.

Patrick Dispoto seen wearing his signature cowboy hat. (Patrick Dispoto's Facebook page)
Patrick Dispoto seen wearing his signature cowboy hat. (Patrick Dispoto's Facebook page)

Then the storm hit the beach.

Dispoto was found unresponsive on a dune, according to News 12 New Jersey.

News 12 New Jersey reports CPR was begun immediately, but Dispoto died at the hospital around 9 p.m.

Dispoto's girlfriend told News 12 New Jersey that she thinks Dispoto was hit by lightning.

An investigation into his cause of death is ongoing.

Hailed as a hero, remembered as a kind heart

As news of Dispoto's death spread, hundreds of tributes poured in on social media.

"Pat was a coworker of mine," Matt Arango wrote. "He was one of the nicest people you could ever come across."

Others who have never met Dispoto, praised his selfless act.

"So sad. Thank you sir for being such a brave caring human," Casey Elizabeth said. "May God Bless and be with your family and friends."

Kathleen Sullivan wrote, "Thank you for your bravery."

Dangers of lightning at the beach

New Jersey 101.5 Chief Meteorologist Dan Zarrow warns, "By definition, every thunderstorm contains lightning. Therefore, every thunderstorm is potentially dangerous."

This is especially true on the beach.

READ MORE: Lifeguard killed by lightning strike in Berkeley Township

"Lightning is always looking for the easiest path from cloud-to-ground," Zarrow says, "On a wide open beach — with no trees, buildings, or structures around — a person can often be the most effective conductor around."

"If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to the storm to be struck by lightning."

That is why, Zarrow says, it is especially important to follow the thunderstorm safety rule: "When Thunder Roars, Head Indoors."

In 2021, 19-year-old lifeguard Keith Pinto was killed and seven other people were injured when lightning hit the beach in Berkeley Township.

Lightning warning systems

Many shore towns do have warning systems that can detect lightning and allow towns to issue warnings.

Strategically placed sensors pick up the electromagnetic signals produced by lightning and provide real-time feedback to special monitors.

Some systems can automatically trigger alerts.

The systems are often used on golf courses and for large outdoor events.

Ironically, Seaside Park officials say they are beginning to install upgrades to their lighting warning system this week.

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