A Father Drowned in the Millstone River After Pulling His 3 Children to Safety
By Richard D. Smith | Posted August 2, 2023 - Updated August 3, 2023
A sunny, warm, and near-perfect summer day was darkened and chilled by a terrible tragedy in the Millstone River by the Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park on Wednesday afternoon.
Franklin Township police received a 911 call at about 2:13 pm on August 2, reporting that a man and three children appeared to be in danger. They were struggling in the Millstone River, bordered by Franklin Township to the east and Rocky Hill to the west. The exact location was the area of Canal Road between Old Georgetown Road and Route 518.
Responding officers found three children, ages 13, 11, and 8, out of the water. The children’s father, Rolando Camarillo-Cholula, a 42-year-old South River resident, was unable to be located.
Family members and friends comforted each other while first responders searched the Millstone River. Photo by Richard D. Smith.
According to witnesses, the children went into the water and quickly became distressed. The father went into the water to help, pulled his children to the shallow water, but struggled to maintain his balance, according to Franklin Township police.
Emergency personnel, including two helicopters and two dive teams, searched for about three hours before they located the father's body. The Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office divers retrieved the body at 5:28 pm. Franklin Police released the man's name on August 3 at 9:30 am.
The children were treated at the scene and released to family members, without needing further medical attention.
A relative told The Montgomery News that the wooded river glade by the canal towpath "was greatly enjoyed" by the deceased man and his family. And, it had very special meaning for him. “It reminded him of his old home country,” the relative said.
First responders' equipment on "Pebble Beach," located on the Rocky Hill side of the Millstone River close to the Route 518 bridge. It was used as a staging location for the first responders as they searched for the body. Photo by Richard D. Smith.
The borough of Rocky Hill had posted signs in 2021 around the Pebble Beach area to discourage people from picnicking on the flood plain and from swimming in the Millstone River. Rocky Hill Fire Chief Todd Harris says at least four people have drowned in the river since the 1980s.
One of several signs located on the Rocky Hill side that warn people that the river is not safe for swimming, fishing, or drinking.
"When you look at that water, there are hidden dangers people cannot see," says Chief Harris. "Also, when people enter the river, they are drawn to the rapids by the old dam and get caught.
"There are also strainers, which are hazardous for recreational users and first responders," he said.
A strainer is created by obstructions – often fallen trees – that allow water to pass through but catch people. A person could become pinned against the strainer and potentially dragged underwater, which can be fatal. Also, downed trees with limbs that sink in the river can snag a person's clothing and hold them underground.
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The factors that contributed to the drowning incident are currently under investigation.
The Franklin Township Police Department was assisted by the Rocky Hill Fire Department, Millstone Valley Fire (Station 28), Griggstown Fire (Station 35), Franklin Park Fire (Station 31), Somerset Fire and
Rescue (Station 56) Dive Team, Franklin Fire Marshals, Montgomery PD, South Brunswick PD, NJ State Police, NJ State Park Police, Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office Dive Team, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital EMS, and Rocky Hill EMS.