The SandPaper

Driver in Little Egg Harbor Crash That Killed Teen Faces Up to 15 Years in Prison

Drugs, Alcohol Played Deadly Role

On Friday, March 3, Michael Pillarella, 28, of Manahawkin was found guilty of manslaughter and assault by auto for causing the 2021 Little Egg Harbor crash that ultimately killed one Pinelands Regional High School student, Gianna Palmieri, and seriously injured another, Kaitlyn Edwards, according to Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer.

Shortly before 10 p.m. on Jan. 30, 2021, Pillarella was driving his Hyundai Elantra at approximately 80 miles per hour on Radio Road when he overshot a bend and collided head on with a Toyota XB containing the two teen girls on their way to get frozen yogurt. Edwards was driving. Everyone involved was airlifted to regional trauma centers for treatment. Pillarella later signed himself out of the hospital against medical advice. Palmieri, the passenger, succumbed to her injuries 10 days after the accident. Edwards was in the hospital for two weeks.

Lab results from Pillarella’s blood draw revealed Pillarella was under the influence of alprazolam (Xanax), methadone, fentanyl and alcohol at the time of the crash.

Pillarella has been lodged in the Ocean County Jail since his arrest over two years ago.

After a nearly three-week jury trial before the Hon. Guy Ryan, the jury concluded Pillarella recklessly caused the death of one victim, and recklessly operated a motor vehicle and caused serious bodily injury to the second victim. Pillarella is scheduled to be sentenced by Ryan on May 5, at which time he faces up to 15 years in state prison.  —V.F.

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