Man drowns while swimming in Heritage Minerals Lake: Police

MANCHESTER, NJ — A Howell Township man drowned while swimming in Crystal Lake on the property of Heritage Minerals in Manchester Saturday morning, police said.

According to Manchester police, 33-year-old Edwin Toro-Mejia and several others illegally entered the private, 7,000-acre quarry to go swimming in Crystal Lake around 9:30 a.m. Police said as Toro-Mejia attempted to swim across the lake, he suffered a muscle cramp in his leg about 100 feet from shore.

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According to police, family members tried to help Toro-Mejia, who eventually disappeared underwater.

Manchester police and several other agencies rushed to the quarry to conduct search and rescue operations. Toro-Mejia's body was found about an hour and a half later. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

According to investigators, Toro-Mejia apparently died from accidental drowning.

The death is the latest at the Heritage Minerals site, which is privately owned and marked with “No Trespassing” signs. Police have repeatedly warned people not to leave the site because the lakes, which were created when mining on the site reached the aquifers, are dangerous. The water is rich in minerals from the aquifers, extremely cold and the sandy shoreline around the lakes is very unstable and soft, police said.

Some of the lakes drop as much as 60 feet not far from the shore. Crystal Lake, the largest lake at this point, is estimated to be 300 feet deep. Because the water from the aquifers is so much colder than typical lake water, swimmers tire much more quickly.

In July 2020, a Plainfield man drowned in Crystal Lake. Teams of divers were called in to recover his body because the mineral-laden water reduces buoyancy, making it harder for people to stay afloat.

There have been several other drowning accidents at this location, including a 17-year-old student from Manchester who died in 2015 and a 22-year-old man who died in 2021.

The property, which borders partly on Route 37 and partly on Route 70, is a former mining site that was first operated by ASARCO (American Smelting and Refining Company) and later by Heritage Minerals until mining operations ceased in the early 1980s.

Because it is private property, it is closed to recreational activities and other uses, and entering or remaining on the property is a criminal offense. In the interest of public safety, Manchester Township Police ask that everyone obey the “No Trespassing” signs posted on the property.

Unauthorized persons face heavy fines and penalties, including imprisonment, for entering the property, police said.

The drowning remains under investigation. Anyone who may have witnessed the incident is asked to contact Det. Richard Jupinka of the Manchester Township Police Department's Investigations Bureau at 732-657-2009, ext. 4206.

Anna Harden

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