More Charges For Ocean County Man In Crash After Teen Dies

Michael Pillarella (Photo courtesy Ocean County Jail)

OCEAN COUNTY – A Manahawkin man accused of causing a motor vehicle accident that left two teens in critical condition is facing more serious charges, now that one of the victims has died from her injuries.

Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer confirmed that charges for 26-year-old Michael Pillarella have been upgraded to Aggravated Manslaughter and Vehicular Homicide in connection with the January 30, 2021 motor vehicle crash in Little Egg Harbor.

An investigation has also revealed that excessive speed played a major role in the crash.

Officers from the Little Egg Harbor Township Police Department responded to the scene on Radio Road. A joint investigation between the police department and the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Vehicular Homicide Unit revealed that Pillarella was driving his Hyundai Elantra when he failed to negotiate a curve in the roadway.

As a result, his car crossed over the centerline, and struck an oncoming Toyota XB travelling southbound on Radio Road. That car was being driven by a teen girl with another teen girl in the front passenger seat.

Both teens sustained serious injuries and were airlifted to Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune in critical condition.

Pillarella was airlifted to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center Trauma Center in Atlantic City for treatment of his injuries. A search warrant was obtained for a draw of Pillarella’s blood, and laboratory results remain pending.

Pillarella was treated and released from the hospital, and was initially issued motor vehicle summonses for Reckless Driving and Failure to Maintain Lane.

Additional charges were filed including Aggravated Assault and Assault by Auto. He was taken into custody by Little Egg Harbor Police Officers and remains lodged in the Ocean County Jail.

On February 9, 2021, the teen passenger died from her injuries in the hospital. The teen passenger remains in critical condition.

Prosecutor Billhimer also confirmed that Pillarella was driving 74 miles per hour at the time of the crash. He has also been charged with Speeding.

“This is every parent’s worst nightmare. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of both of these young women. The driver should have been celebrating her birthday last weekend, instead she was fighting for her life in the hospital. The passenger that passed away this evening should have been celebrating her birthday this upcoming weekend…this is such an unspeakable tragedy,” Prosecutor Billhimer concluded.

Although not identified by authorities, a local Facebook page posted a remembrance message in memory of Gianna Palmieri. 

Prosecutor Billhimer commends Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Vehicular Homicide Unit, Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Victim Witness Advocacy Unit, Little Egg Harbor Township Police Department, New Jersey State Police, and Ocean County Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Investigation Unit, for their collaborative assistance in connection with this investigation leading to Pillarella’s arrest and appropriate charges.

In addition to this latest incident, Michael Pillarella had a brush with the law back in 2015 when he was arrested for shoplifting and drug possession. According to Lacey Township Police Blotter records, Pillarella was arrested in 2016 for an accident in Forked River. He was charged with Assault by Auto, Reckless Driving and Driving With A Suspended License.

The press and public are reminded that all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.