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Memorial Fund for 17-year-old Girl Who Died When Her Jeep Veered into the D&R Canal

By Barbara A. Preston l February 2, 2021

"From chasing frogs near the creek when she attended Brunswick Acres Elementary to her two dogs and two geckos, Emmy always had a way with, and a love for, animals," according to a Go-Fund-Me memorial site created to raise funds in honor of Emily "Emmy" Murillo, a South Brunswick High School senior who was expected to graduate in June.

Murillo died Friday after the Jeep she was driving south on Canal Road overturned into the frigid canal near Suydam Road. Police officers, firefighters, EMS personnel and divers from the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office Emergency Response Team searched for more than an hour. The vehicle was located with the assistance of the New Jersey State Police Aviation Unit. Divers entered the water and found the Murillo trapped in the vehicle. She was transported to a local area trauma center where she was pronounced deceased.

Emily Murillo, 17, died when her Jeep overturned into the D&R Canal in Franklin Township on Friday.

Emily was a lifelong resident of South Brunswick. "She will be missed most deeply by her sister Kaylee, her step-brothers Dominic and Vincent, her mom and stepfather Erin and Joe Popolo, and her father, Oscar Murillo," according to the Go-Fund-Me page set up by Kenneth and Abigail Gleason, who organized the fundraiser on behalf of Emily's mother.

About 530 people had donated almost $25,000 as of this posting.

Erin Popolo, Emily's mother, worked for years for the South Brunswick Board of Education, and Oscar Murillo, Emily's father, currently works at Deans Elementary School. Joe Populo, Emily's stepfather, is a retired firefighter and is now a fire subcode official.

"They are the kind of people who help make this community great," according to the Gleasons. "Please give what you can to help them with the funeral and other costs as they struggle through what is truly the unimaginable. All donations will go directly to Emily’s family."

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While most of the canal has guard rails between the roadway and the canal, a portion of roadway by the 90-degree curve at Suydam Road, next to American Water's treatment plant, does not. One can speculate that a guard rail would have saved this young driver's life.

Petition to add street lights and barriers to Canal Road

Local resident Chelsea Koch started an online petition asking Somerset County officials to make adjustments to Canal Road to make it safer. Her petition had 3,400 signatures as of noon on Tuesday.

"Canal Road is very dangerous," Koch says. "It is a very narrow road with a lot of turns. It is right up against a canal with no barrier (in some places) in between. The road is also very poorly lit. A friend of mine (Murillo), who was in her senior year of high school, recently drove on that road at night. Her car veered off the road and landed in the canal. She did not survive this accident. Her friends and family mourn this loss because she was very bright spirited and always a joy to be around.

"My goal is to make sure nobody gets hurt driving on that road again," Koch says. "Adding barriers will help keep cars on the road, and adding lights will help improve vision. I want to make sure that nobody else has to suffer this loss that could have been easily avoided with proper road necessities. Please sign this petition."

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On Friday, January 29, at 9:22 pm the Franklin Township Police Department received a 9-1-1 call reporting that a motor vehicle had left the roadway and went into the canal near Suydam Road.

Somerset County Prosecutor Michael H. Robertson, Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office Chief of County Detectives John W. Fodor and Franklin Township Public Safety Director Quovella M. Spruill announce an ongoing investigation into a fatal motor vehicle crash.

The Franklin Township Police Department’s Traffic Safety Bureau and Detectives from the Franklin Township Police Department are conducting an investigation into the factors that contributed to this incident. The initial investigation revealed that the female driver was traveling southbound on Canal Road in a 2006 Jeep Commander when she left the roadway and entered the canal.

Anyone with information about this incident is asked to contact Sgt. James Raics at 732-873-5533 extension 3177 or at

A viewing will be held outdoors in heated tents at the family's home on Thursday and Friday from 4 to 7 pm. Her funeral is scheduled for Saturday at Brunswick Memorial Funeral Home.


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