Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer announced that on May 5, 2023, Michael Pillarella, 28, of Manahawkin, was sentenced by the Honorable Guy P. Ryan, P.J.Cr.P., to seventeen years New Jersey State Prison (NJSP), having previously been found guilty of Manslaughter in connection with a motor vehicle crash that resulted in the death of a juvenile victim in Little Egg Harbor Township during the evening hours of January 30, 2021. This sentence will be subject to the terms of the No Early Release Act, meaning that Pillarella will be required to serve at least 85 percent of his prison sentence before he may be considered for parole eligibility. Additionally, Judge Ryan sentenced Pillarella to four years NJSP as a result of being found guilty of Assault by Auto in connection with the same motor vehicle crash. The sentences will run consecutively.
Pillarella was found guilty of both offenses on March 3, 2023, after a nearly three-week jury trial before Judge Ryan.
On January 30, 2021, at approximately 9:45 p.m., 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 with serious injuries. An investigation by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Vehicular Homicide Unit and Little Egg Harbor Police Department revealed that a 2017 Hyundai Elantra, operated by Pillarella, was traveling northbound on Radio Road when he failed to negotiate a curve in the roadway, crossed over the centerline, and struck an oncoming 2006 Toyota XB travelling southbound on Radio Road. The Toyota XB was operated by a female juvenile; there was also a female juvenile passenger in the vehicle. As a result of the crash, both juveniles sustained serious injuries and were subsequently airlifted to Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune.
Pillarella was airlifted to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center Trauma Center in Atlantic City for treatment of his injuries from the crash. A warrant was obtained for a draw of Pillarella’s blood. Pillarella was treated and signed himself out of the hospital against medical advice. Pillarella was initially issued several motor vehicle summonses in connection with the crash.
Further investigation by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Vehicular Homicide Unit and Little Egg Harbor Police Department resulted in the filing of additional charges against Pillarella on February 1, 2021, for Aggravated Assault and Assault by Auto — two counts as to each offense relating to both juvenile victims. Pillarella was taken into custody without incident by officers from the Little Egg Harbor Police Department, and he has been lodged in the Ocean County Jail since his arrest.
On February 9, 2021, the female juvenile passenger in the Toyota XB succumbed to the injuries she sustained as a result of the January 30, 2021 crash. She was pronounced deceased at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. As a consequence, the charges against Pillarella were upgraded to include Aggravated Manslaughter and Vehicular Homicide relative to the passenger victim.
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.
Prosecutor Billhimer commends the diligence and dedication of Supervising Assistant Prosecutor Robert Cassidy and Assistant Prosecutor Alyssa Mandara who together tried this case on behalf of the State. The Prosecutor likewise extends his gratitude to the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Vehicular Homicide Unit, Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office High Tech Crimes Unit, Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Victim Witness Advocacy Unit, Little Egg Harbor Township Police Department, Berkeley Township Police Department, New Jersey State Police, Ocean County Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Investigation Unit, and Ocean County Medical Examiner’s Office, for their combined and collective efforts investigating this tragedy – ultimately resulting in Pillarella’s state prison sentence.