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Man drowns after illegal swim in mining lake in South Jersey

A 33-year-old Howell Township man drowned Saturday morning after taking an illegal swim in Crystal Lake, the mining hole on Heritage Mineral's 7,000-acre mining property in Manchester that is closed off but is a popular area for off-road vehicle riding.

According to police, Edwin Toro-Mejia arrived at the lake with family members around 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning and jumped in with a juvenile to cool off. The two were attempting to cross Crystal Lake when Toro-Mejia apparently suffered a muscle cramp and drifted into the water about 100 feet from shore, police said.

Family members tried to rescue him, but Toro-Mejia disappeared into the current, police said. The victim's lifeless body was recovered about an hour and a half later after a search by New Jersey State Police Aviation, Lanoka Harbor and Ocean Beach search and rescue crews and volunteer firefighters from Manchester, Ridgeway, Whiting, Lakehurst, Toms River and South Toms River, police said.

Mining on Heritage Mineral's 28,000-acre site off Route 37 ceased in the early 1980s, leaving behind a series of “lakes” – actually quarry holes that have filled with water.

The banks are naturally unstable and the slopes can be steep, police say. Even more dangerous, the lakes are fed by springs in the underground aquifer, whose water is usually much colder and can cause cramps in swimmers, police said.

Although there are “No Trespassing” signs posted on the property, the area is a popular area for people with ATVs. In 2020, a man was killed when his ATV crashed into one of the lakes at Heritage Mineral.

The Ocean County Medical Examiner's Office will conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death. Manchester Township Police are asking anyone who witnessed the incident to contact Detective Richard Jupinka at 732-657-2009, extension 4206.

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Anna Harden

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