LITTLE EGG HARBOR — A teen injured in a crash with a driver accused of speeding  and recklessness on Jan. 30 has died after fighting for her life for more than a week. Her death came Tuesday, four days before her 17th birthday.

The driver of the other car now faces upgraded charges of aggravated manslaughter and vehicular homicide. Prosecutors said they are waiting on lab results for blood test to see whether intoxication played a role.

Michael Pillarella was driving a 2017 Hyundai Elantra northbound on Radio Road just before 10 p.m. when he failed to negotiate a curve in the road, crossed over the centerline and struck an oncoming 2006 Toyota XB with two teenagers, according to Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer.

Investigators said Pillarella was driving 74 mph at the time of the crash.

One of the girls in the Toyota died Tuesday night at Jersey Shore University Medical Center resulting in an aggravated manslaughter charge for Pillarella. A GoFundMe page identified her as Gianna Palmieri, of Little Egg Harbor. A separate GoFundMe page identified the driver as Kaitlyn Edwards.

Kaitlyn Edwards
Kaitlyn Edwards (Kenley Pivola via GoFundMe)

According to the campaign for Gianna, the girls are students at Pinelands Regional High School and worked at Acme supermarket in Tuckerton. They were returning from a trip for frozen yogurt, according to the campaign for Kaitlyn.

"On behalf of the Board of Education, the administrative Team, and myself we are truly devastated and send our prayers and condolences to the family," Superintendent Melissa McCooley said in a written statement.

McCooley said the district will support staff and students coping with the tragedy.

"This is every parent’s worst nightmare," Billhimer said in a written statement. "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.”

Pillarella is being held at the Ocean County Jail pending a detention hearing. New Jersey 101.5 did not know Wednesday whether he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.

Shawn Michaels contributed to this report

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story should have said that the suspect's blood test results were pending.

Michael Pillarella (Ocean County Jail) Little Egg Harbor crash Ocean County
Michael Pillarella (Ocean County Jail)

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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