A man from Manahawkin has been found guilty of charges in connection to a crash in Little Egg Harbor Township just over two years ago that killed a high school student and seriously injured another.

Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer says 28-year-old Michael Pillarella now faces up to 15 years in state prison when he is sentenced on May 5th for manslaughter and assault by auto.

On the night of January 30th, 2021, officers from the Little Egg Harbor Township Police Department responded to the area of Radio Road and Baltusrol Court for a report of a two-vehicle crash.

An investigation revealed that a 2017 Hyundai Elantra, being driven by Pillarella, was headed northbound on Radio Road when he failed to negotiate a curve, crossed over the centerline, and struck an oncoming 2006 Toyota XB that was headed southbound.

The Asbury Park Press identified Kaitlyn Edwards, who was 17 then, as the driver of the Toyota with 15-year-old Gianna Palmieri as her passenger. Both were seriously injured in the crash and were airlifted to Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune.

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Pillarella was airlifted to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City for treatment and a warrant was obtained for a draw of his blood for testing purposes.

He was initially issued several motor vehicle summonses, however, a further investigation resulted in charges of aggravated assault and assault by auto being filed.

On February 9, 2021, Palmieri, who was a student at Pinelands Regional High School, died from the injuries she sustained in the crash. As a consequence, the charges against Pillarella were upgraded to include aggravated manslaughter and vehicular homicide.

Edwards was hospitalized for two weeks and endured multiple surgeries.

On February 15, 2020, Detectives from the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office received the laboratory results in connection with Pillarella’s blood draw; those results revealed that Pillarella was under the influence of a combination of Alprazolam, Methadone, Fentanyl, and alcohol at the time of the crash, and that he was unfit to safely operate a motor vehicle on the roadways of the State of New Jersey. Additionally, further investigation revealed that Pillarella was operating his motor vehicle at an excessive rate of speed – approximately 80 miles per hour at the time of the crash.

The Asbury Park Press reported earlier that day, Pillarella had been fired from his job. He proceeded to a bar, where he drank two double shots of vodka and a pint of beer. Surveillance video from the bar showed him swaying and nodding, with his head down on a table. Ultimately, he was asked to leave the establishment.

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