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News from Monmouth County, New Jersey

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    The grey seals were nurtured back to health by the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine

    Three grey seals, nursed back to health, were given their freedom Monday afternoon at the Gateway National Recreational Area in Sandy Hook.

    But, at first, it looked as if it didn't want it.

    After nearly lifting its container in the air and dumping it on the sand, the seal took off, then looked back at a crowd gathered to watch the animal released into the wild off the New Jersey Coast. After posing for a few photos, it took off again and turned back once in the water to look at its fans one more time before taking off.

    The animals, two females and a male, and just 3- to 4-months-old, were rehabilitated at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine. One seal had a fishing net cutting into its skin around the neck and the other two had swollen fins caused by an infection. 

    Founded in 1978, the stranding center takes care of sick and injured marine mammals and sea turtles along the coast, and nurtures these animals for release back into their habitats.

    Aristide Economopoulos can be reached at aeconomopoulos@njadvancemedia.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @AristideNJAM and Instagram at @aeconomopoulos  Find NJ.com on Facebook


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    The Boss passionately slammed through blues-rock standards for 30 minutes with Tangiers Blues Band.


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    NJ Advance Media has selected 36 players as All-State picks in 2018.


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    Bruce Springsteen and Portugal. The Man helped welcome the iconic Asbury Park venue back to the neighborhood Monday night


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    NJ.com highlights the best players in N.J. from the 2018 season.


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    When thousands descended upon Seaside Park boardwalk for a meet-up organizers promised would be "fire," officials were surprised. And then they were overwhelmed.

    When thousands descended upon Seaside Park for a meet-up organizers promised would be "fire," officials were surprised. 

    And then they were overwhelmed. 

    The meet-up, spread as a flier on social media accounts without any notice to officials, left police and first responders scrambling to account for the chaos of an estimated 15,000 additional beach-goers (yes, that's on top of the usual crowds for a busy summer Saturday).

    Some stormed past a single officer along the boardwalk, skirting beach fees, and a handful ended up in brawls caught on camera, which eventually elevated the underground meet-up to the national news stage. 

    Warning: The video below contains violent content and graphic language. 

    Officials said there was no DJ as promised, and no evidence of an organized event -- aside from the thousands of expectant people. 

    "Somebody just went on social media and posted this. It attracted the people that came down," said Cpl. Stephen Shadiack of the Seaside Park police. "When they got here, they found out there was no such thing. All fake." 

    Attendees didn't seem to mind. Hundreds of posts were made under the event's hashtag of pictures of groups of young people smiling on the sand. An account setup under the meet-up's name, "#Beachniknj18," has more than 1,000 followers. 

    In fact, the meet-up was so wildly successful, many are already talking about holding another later this summer. 

    A message sent to the Instagram account was not returned Tuesday. 

    That prospect has police scouring hashtags on Instagram to learn more about the new culture of organizing, trying to stay ahead of a second iteration. Other than that, it's not clear what, if anything, they can do to put a stop to the masses. 

    "It's something that we have to talk about," said Seaside Heights Mayor Anthony Vaz. "It's concerning because it's never happened before." 

    The municipalities require organizers to obtain permits to host events like the one advertised, with DJs or loud music. Often, the planners are on the line for covering police overtime pay, trash removal and any expenses associated with shutting down a beach. 

    But when the event is a pop-up, drawing people to public spaces without altering or closing them, the line discerning who's responsible gets blurred. And when the event quickly boils over to a public safety concern, it falls immediately to police, who know little to nothing about it. 

    They can look for open containers, or haul off those involved in fights. But for the general crowds that often facilitate those acts, there's little to do but watch and wait. 

    On Saturday, it was local and county-wide officials who stepped in to help the Seaside Park Police Department with crowd control, that had to take on responsibility. 

    "We had to scramble to get other ambulances there," Seaside Park Chief Francis Larkin said. "It'd be nice if we'd had notice." 

    While the crowd resembled that of Memorial Day or Fourth of July, when police know they have to add resources to handle an influx of vacationers, it was the lack of notice that left police blind-sided. 

    Particulary because a first-round of posts a week ahead of the event advertised the event named a beach in Seaside Heights as the location, while a second, posted just a day before the meet-up, said it would take place in Seaside Park -- a location with "less rules and regulations." 

    At an official event, officers would know ahead of time they were putting in extra hours, and officials would have time to do a threat assessment, looking for any signs of violent activity in large crowds, Larkin said. 

    Between Saturday and early Sunday morning, Larkin said his department logged 51 calls for service, resulting in two arrests and the issuing of 14 public nuisance summonses, a single citation for having alcohol in a vehicle, and three for sleeping in a motor vehicle. 

    That number wasn't particularly high for a summer weekend, he noted, but it's likely the large crowds forced officers to concentrate efforts on the meet-up area and that minor offenses elsewhere in the borough went unnoticed. 

    In neighboring Seaside Heights, which assisted Seaside Park, officials are concerned about similar meet-ups. 

    Vaz, from Seaside Heights, said it's too soon to speculate if people who start such firestorms on social media could face fines from the borough, or what the best response is. Vaz said he planned to raise the issue during Wednesday's council session, when the borough attorney would also be present to give input. 

    Larkin said his department would respond similarly if the masses returned; calling into county officials to get mutual aid from other departments. Other than that, and chasing ever-evolving hashtags to keep up, there's not much more police can do but monitor crowds that come largely with plans of behaving. 

    "Unfortunately, it's okay to do. If 10 of us are going to meet at the beach, why can't 10,000 of us?" he said. "It's amazing, the power of the phone."  

    Amanda Hoover can be reached at ahoover@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandahoovernj. Find NJ.com on Facebook

    Have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips

     

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    Jah-Del Birch, 16, initially faced juvenile offenses in the Feb. 21 shooting, which claimed the life of Yovanni Banos-Merino and left his 38-year-old mother wounded. Watch video

    The teen accused in an Asbury Park shooting that killed a 10-year-old boy will be prosecuted as an adult for a murder charge, officials announced Tuesday.

    Jah-Del Birch, 16, was also charged with weapons offenses, conspiracy and aggravated assault for his role in the Feb. 21 shooting, which claimed the life of Yovanni Banos-Merino and left his 38-year-old mother wounded.

    Birch, who initially faced juvenile offenses in the killing, is scheduled to appear in Monmouth County Superior Court Thursday afternoon, according to the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office. Prosecutors disclosed the Neptune Township teen's name after the case was waived to the adult justice system.

    Authorities have said they don't believe the young boy or his mother were the intended targets of the attack, which apparently targeted another person in the same Ridge Avenue home where the victims were shot.

    Prosecutors previously charged Karon Council, 18, with murder, conspiracy, aggravated assault and weapons offenses in the shooting. Members of a U.S. US Marshals Service fugitive unit arrested the Neptune Township man in Broward County, Florida.

    Officials have not revealed a possible motive for the shooting.

    Banos-Merino's mother, Lilia Merino, was released from a hospital after being treated for gunshot wounds. Neighbors remembered the boy playing on his bike and said the family was well-liked on the block.

    It was not immediately clear if Birch had retained an attorney.

    Noah Cohen may be reached at ncohen@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @noahycFind NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    The top high school baseball players in New Jersey this season.


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    As prom season winds down, NJ.com compiled a collection of some of the best dressed prom attendees from 2018.

    As prom season winds down, NJ.com compiled a collection of some of the best dressed prom attendees from 2018.

    BUY THESE PHOTOS

    Are you one of the people pictured at this prom? Want to buy the photo and keep it forever? Look for the blue link "buy photo" below the photographer's credit to purchase the picture. You'll have the ability to order prints in a variety of sizes, or products like magnets, keychains, coffee mugs and more.

    Be sure to check out the complete prom coverage at nj.com/prom.

    Ed Murray may be reached at emurray@njadvancemedia.com. Follow Ed on Twitter at @EdMurrayphoto. Find NJ.COM on Facebook.


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    Officials and even the plaintiff's lawyer declined to discuss the suit's allegations publicly. The township will split the cost of the settlement with its insurer.

    Wall Township officials agreed to a $1.25 million settlement of a lawsuit by a former employee who charged that coworkers and superiors taunted him with anti-Semitic slurs and Nazi propaganda, "on a near-daily basis." 

    The settlement stems from a suit filed in October 2015 by Brandon Jacobs, a tax and utility clerk who began working for the township in 1999 and later went on disability. Jacobs is Jewish.

    The suit, filed in state Superior Court in Ocean County, named the township as a defendant, asserting that the township improperly permitted a hostile work environment to persist, causing distress and economic harm to Jacobs. 

    The Township Committee authorized the settlement by resolution at its May 23rd meeting. The resolution does not address the allegations in the suit, and several Wall officials said they were advised by the township attorney not to comment on the case. 

    The resolution authorizing the settlement specifies that the township will pay $625,000, or half the settlement amount, while the township's insurer will pay the other half. 

    When Jacobs was working as the chief steward for Wall's township works department, the suit alleged township employee referred to him as "Cheap Jeward," while another called him a "f***ing Jew," and a third told him he had "killed Jesus." One employee, the suit said, placed "Nazi propaganda" in Jacobs' work area.

    "Supervisory employees were present when anti-Semitic comments were made to Plaintiff and they routinely made such comments themselves," the suit states.

    By failing to address the situation, the suit said, the township caused Jacobs to suffer severe distress and eventually to go on disability leave, which "caused Plaintiff to suffer significant economic losses, and will continue to do so in the future." 

    The resolution states that the settlement's purpose was to "avoid further litigation expenses," based on a recommendation by the township attorney, Sean T. Kean.  Reached by phone late Tuesday afternoon, Kean declined address allegations in the suit. Kean, a Republican state assemblyman for the 30th Legislative District, also declined to supply a copy of the township's answer to the suit's initial complaint.

    Committeeman Kevin Orender, who serves as deputy mayor, declined to comment on the suit, other than to say that the allegations predated his and most other committee members' tenure. But by approving the settlement, Orender said, "we did what was in the best interest of the township."

    Ravi Sattiraju, the lawyer representing Jacobs, declined to comment.

    The settlement has drawn criticism. A Facebook post on the Wall Township History and News page stated that, "the Township Committee hid the details of this settlement from the public," and otherwise lacked transparency on the settlement.   

    And during the public portion of the committee's May 23rd meeting, resident Betsy Crawford blasted the settlement as  "outrageous," and demanded that someone be held responsible for the work environment described in the suit. 

    "Now our taxes are going up because of a settlement," Crawford told officials.

    Township Administrator Jeff Bertrand said Tuesday that he had been instructed by Kean not to talk about the case, or about Jacobs' employment history with Wall.

    But Bertrand rejected any assertion that the township tried to hide the settlement, noting that the resolution had been listed on the online agenda for the May 23rd meeting. 

    Bertrand also reiterated that the decision to settle the case was not an admission that the township was at fault. He also said the settlement was recommended not only by Kean, but also by lawyers for the township's insurer. 

    "When all is said and done it all comes down to a business decision," Bertrand said.

    Steve Strunsky may be reached at sstrunsky@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteveStrunsky. Find NJ.com on Facebook


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    NJ State Trooper Scott Behnke rescued a man who went off the Garden State Parkway in Tinton Falls and was trapped in his burning car Watch video

    New Jersey State Police on Tuesday released video of a state trooper and passing motorists who pulled a man from a burning vehicle off the Garden State Parkway in Tinton Falls.

    The incident occurred in the rain on May 27 at milepost 105, according to State Police, who released a trooper's dashcam video of the rescue.

    Holmdel Trooper Scott Behnke responded about 10:40 a.m. to a report of a vehicle that went off the southbound express lanes, authorities said.

    Behnke found the victim unconscious and trapped in the smoking vehicle, State Police said.

    Passing motorists stopped to help Behnke pull the man through the passenger-side window and drag him to safety.

    The man, who state police said suffered a medical issue, regained consciousness. Behnke rendered first aid until paramedics arrived and transported the man to Jersey Shore Medical Center.

    The man was later released from the hospital, State Police said.

    Anthony G. Attrino may be reached at tattrino@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @TonyAttrino. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    The pop star and "River" singer sang effortlessly at Asbury Lanes on Tuesday night


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    The Maryland Jumbo Soft Shells Crabs sign was actually 'missing due to an oversight' according to police Watch video

    A sign reported stolen from the recently demolished Circus-Drive In earlier this month was never actually taken, authorities said. 

    An employee apparently put the "Maryland Jumbo Soft Shell Crabs" sign into storage along with several other items of sentimental value without telling the owner, according to Wall police Capt. Greg Carpino. A different employe ended up reporting the sign missing. 

    The sign, which was mounted below the much-larger Circus Drive-In sign, was first thought to have been swiped sometime between June 4 and June 7, police said at the time.

    The iconic Jersey Shore landmark on Route 35 was demolished in May after being sold last summer

    The Circus, which offered a classic drive-in experience -- in which customers were served through their car windows -- was especially known for its soft-shell crabs and dishes like the Bareback Betsy, the Wild Animal Special and the Daredevil.

    Jeff Goldman may be reached at jeff_goldman@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeffSGoldman. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    The massive drug operation, authorities said, was selling at least 1 kilogram of cocaine and 10,000 bags of heroin on a weekly basis.

    Authorities dismantled a heroin and cocaine dealing ring operating in two counties that was netting a quarter of a million dollars in profits on a weekly basis, officials announced Wednesday.

    The major drug bust, dubbed "Operation Undertow," seized on June 8 nearly 3 kilograms of cocaine, approximately 6,250 bags of heroin, a stolen .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun from North Carolina, two cars and more than $35,000 cash in narcotics sales proceeds, said Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni.

    The street value of all the drugs seized, Gramiccioni said, was well over $300,000. The organization was selling at least 1 kilogram of cocaine and 10,000 bags of heroin on a weekly basis, Gramiccioni said.

    "This was a big hit for us," he said.

    Two of the alleged dealers, Kurrian Grasty, 38, and Marlo Taylor, 41, were based out of Neptune Township. They were arrested on June 7. 

    Terrence Wright, 47, of Orange, was also taken into custody on June 12.

    Taylor and Wright were ordered by a Monmouth County Superior Court judge to remain behind bars pending trial. A detention hearing for Grasty is scheduled for Friday. 

    Timothy Guest, who lived in Swedesboro and Irvington, was also charged as a result of the investigation but remains a fugitive. 

    All four defendants were charged with distributing cocaine and heroin and possession of narcotics. Graspy was also charged with weapons offenses and receiving stolen property.

    Gramiccioni credited the Monmouth County Sheriff's Office, the Essex County Prosecutor's Office and the more than 20 local law enforcement agencies that assisted with the five-month investigation.

    Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Best is asked to contact the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office at 732-431-7160. Anonymous tips can also be left with the Monmouth County Crime Stoppers program, which offers monetary rewards for information leading to an arrest. 

    Alex Napoliello may be reached at anapoliello@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @alexnapoNJ. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

    Have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips


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    If you can't find something good to eat in New Jersey, you aren't hungry.

    As if we needed to be told ... 50states.com tells us that "New Jersey has the most diners in the world and is sometimes referred to as the diner capital of the world." According to nj.com's own Pete Genovese, we have more than 600 diners to choose from.

    The Cornelius Low House Museum in Piscataway hosted an exhibit on diners in 2015, and Mark Nonestied, the museum's division head of historic sites and history services, offered this as a reason why New Jersey rules when it comes to diners.

    636312477998277301-diner3.jpgThis classic diner table scene was part of the Low House exhibit on diners.

    "New Jersey had a very early, highly developed transportation system. When people drove, they needed to stop and eat," he said. "Diners filled that need -- and our location between New York and Philadelphia along with this road network through New Jersey becomes part of the reason why there were so many."

    According to Nonestied, the diner's success in New Jersey also had to do with people who lived in the state. That is, "Initially, when diners became popular, they were places where working class communities could get a good, cheap meal to eat at any time of the day. And New Jersey had a very diverse working-class population--and diners became that go-to place to get a good meal."

    MORE: Vintage photos around New Jersey

    As for the future of the diner, Nonestied remains optimistic: "I think there will always be a need for them. Diners reinvent themselves as society changes, and each time, they seem to find a way to keep up with the new pace of things--and flourish."

    Just like the residents of the state that they call home.

    Here's a gallery of vintage photos diners and eateries around New Jersey; if you don't see one of your favorites, check the links below to earlier galleries. And if you still don't see it ... send in a photo for our next gallery!

    Vintage photos of N.J. diners

    Vintage photos of diners in N.J.

    Vintage photos of diners and eateries in NJ

    Vintage photos of eclectic eats in N.J.

    Greg Hatala may be reached at ghatala@starledger.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.


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    Highlighting the state's top players after a busy spring full of softball action.


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    The accusations announced on Wednesday bring the total number of people charged with Sandy relief fraud in the state to 116 since March 2014

    Four more people have been charged with defrauding New Jersey and the federal government out of Hurricane Sandy relief money by claiming their damaged vacation properties were their primary residences, authorities said.

    The accusations announced on Wednesday bring the total number of people charged with Sandy relief fraud in the state to 116 since March 2014, according to state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal.

    The 116 people charged were allegedly responsible for diverting more than $7 million in relief funds, Grewal said.

    Hurricane Sandy contractor accused of $348K fraud

    "Any fraud against public assistance programs is deplorable, but these thefts were especially egregious because they diverted funds intended for victims left homeless by one of the most devastating storms in New Jersey history," Grewal said in a statement.

    The four defendants were charged Wednesday by complaint and issued a summons to appear in court:

    • Brian J. Kotowich, 57, of Beach Haven, allegedly filed fraudulent applications for FEMA assistance and state grants, receiving more than $187,000 in relief funds. Kotowich allegedly claimed in his applications that a home he owns on West Connecticut Avenue in Beach Haven was his primary residence when Sandy struck. But at the time, Kotowich lived in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Kotowich is charged with second-degree theft by deception.
    • Charles Licastro, 64, of Pine Brook, allegedly received $183,870 in relief funds after falsely claiming a home he owns on Boat Point Drive in Point Pleasant was his primary residence at the time Sandy struck. The home was actually a seasonal/weekend property, investigators said. Licastro is charged with second-degree theft by deception.
    • Anthony Novello, 63, of Forked River, allegedly received more than $169,000 in relief funds after claiming in his applications that a home he owns on Riverview Drive in Forked River was his primary residence at the time Sandy struck. Novello, who has since moved to Forked River, lived in Clark at the time of the hurricane, investigators said. He is charged with second-degree theft by deception.
    • Thomas Aquilino, 56, of Yonkers, New York, allegedly received $150,000 by falsely claiming a storm-damaged property he owns on Baltimore Avenue in Point Pleasant was his primary residence at the time Sandy hit. Investigators allege he lived in Yonkers and that the Point Pleasant house was a seasonal/weekend property. Aquilino is charged with second-degree theft by deception.

    "In order to repair vacation or investment properties, these defendants allegedly stole funds that were strictly intended for victims who needed to rebuild or restore their primary homes," said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. "While many generously helped others after the storm, these property owners allegedly helped themselves."

    Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000, according to the state attorney general.

    Anthony G. Attrino may be reached at tattrino@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @TonyAttrino. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    Where is the best place to see fireworks in New Jersey? What time does fireworks start? Fourth of July 2018 fireworks events and displays near you. This complete listing includes all 21 counties.


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    The 62-year-old Brooklyn man was going west in the eastbound lanes of Route 36 in Middletown

    A 66-year-old Monmouth County man was killed early Saturday when his car was struck by a drunk driver from New York going the wrong way on Route 36 in Middletown, authorities say.

    Michael Gustafson, of Atlantic Highlands, was driving near the Linden Avenue intersection when an SUV traveling west in the eastbound lanes slammed into his vehicle, the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office said in a statement.

    Gustafson was pronounced dead at Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank about an hour after the 12:46 a.m. crash.

    Man dies in wrong-way crash with truck on Turnpike

    The driver of the SUV, Anthony F. Sarlo, 62, was charged with driving while intoxicated, having an open alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle, reckless driving and misuse of a divided highway.

    Sarlo was brought to the hospital to be checked and then released. There were no passengers in either vehicle.

    Anyone with information about the collision is asked to contact Middletown police Sgt. Cliff O'Hara at 732-615-2100 or Agent Reginald Grant of the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office at 800-533-7443.

    Jeff Goldman may be reached at jeff_goldman@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeffSGoldman. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

     


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    Breakwater Beach Waterpark in Seaside Heights was one of 700 locations taking part in The World's Largest Swim Lesson.

    Approximately 200 kids and adults participated in the World's Largest Swim Lesson today at Breakwater Beach Waterpark in Seaside Heights.

    The 24-hour event, taking place at an estimated 700 waterparks, pools and swim schools in 44 U.S. states and 29 countries, aims to teach both kids and adults the importance of water safety.

    "Drowning is the second leading cause of death for ages 1 to 14," said Maria Mastoris, marketing manager for Casino Pier and Breakwater Beach.

    "It's a fun day (where) kids and families learn how to swim, how to prevent drowning, and water safety in general."

    According to a press release from The World's Largest Swim Lesson (WLSL), "more drowning and near-drowning accidents take place in June than any other month and the July 4th holiday traditionally sees an increase in drowning accidents."

    Olympian Tom Wilkens, a bronze medalist in the men's 200-meter individual medley during the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, was on hand to offer advice to those taking part in today's swim lesson.

    "Even Olympic swimmers have to be careful around the water," said Wilkens, who grew up in Middletown and attended Christian Brothers Academy.

    In 2010, the WLSL was created by the World Waterpark Association to "help the global aquatics industry work together to build awareness about the fundamental importance of teaching children to swim."

    Participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent among children aged 1 to 4, yet many children lack access to formal training opportunities, according to the WLSL. 

    This is the seventh year Breakwater Beach Waterpark has hosted the event, and the facility is one of nearly 20 New Jersey locations to host this year.

    In 2017, approximately 45,000 kids participated worldwide. The total number of participants this year will be released at a later date.

    Lori M. Nichols may be reached at lnichols@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Instagram @photog_lori and Twitter @photoglori. Find NJ.com on Facebook. Have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips.


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