ROXBURY, NJ – A GoFundMe site raising money for the family of Jason Gil, a former Roxbury High School student who drowned in a Lake Hopatcong boating accident this month, has reached more than $30,000, triple the amount sought when it was established.
The fundraiser was created by Gil’s girlfriend, Morgan Laidlow. She said she never envisioned the level of generosity it would engender. “Absolutely not,” said the 20-year-old Mount Olive resident. “It was a surprise to all of us.”
As of Friday, the effort had raised nearly $31,000. Laidlow said the money will go to Gil’s family to defray funeral costs and to help replace money the 24-year-old Mount Arlington resident would have been contributing to household expenses.
Gil, a 2013 graduate of Roxbury High School, worked as an X-ray technician at Tri-County Orthopedics in Cedar Knolls. He is survived by his mother Monica Gil and twin brother Jonathan Gil.
Hard Liquor and Byram Cove
Gil died Aug. 3 after falling off a 20-foot-long pontoon boat in the lake. Authorities said the boat was being operated by his friend, Jefferson resident Nicholas Zarantonello, 24, who police accuse of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time.
State Police initially charged Zarantonello with boating under the influence. On Aug. 19, Zarantonello was charged with second-degree death by vessel, a charge that can result in a prison term and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
In an affidavit, State Police Trooper Helmut Bisl said Zarantonello admitted drinking hard liquor prior to the incident. He said Zarantonello told him he - accompanied by Gil and another passenger - took the boat onto the lake at about 5 p.m. in the area of Byram Cove.
"Prior to taking the boat onto the water, they stopped at a liquor store and purchased a handle of hard liquor and some mixers," wrote Bisl. He said Zarantonello told him he brought another bottle of hard liquor onto the boat too.
Zarantonello told the trooper the trio "remained in the area of Byram Cove, drinking alcohol, until they became hungry and decided to head back," Bisl wrote. The other passenger, described only as "A.D." in the affidavit, told police the pontoon boat entered a no-wake zone en route to the marina, "at which time the defendant slowed down the boat, causing it to jerk," wrote the trooper.
Gil "was standing on a platform on the bow of the boat," at that point, says the statement. "He fell into the water and did not resurface. A search of the vessel was conducted. A nearly empty handle of hard liquor was observed onboard."
Over the Limit
Bisl said Zarantonello - while talking to police - showed signs of impairment including "including, but not limited to swaying; slurred speech; bloodshot, red, and watery eyes; and the odor of alcoholic beverage emanating from his mouth."
Blood samples showed Zarantonello had a blood-alcohol content above the 0.08 percent legal limit "and the presence of" an unnamed illegal drug, according to Bisl.
Gil’s body was not found until two days after the accident. It was spotted, by a boater on the lake, near the area in Jefferson where the incident took place, authorities said.
Zarantonello appeared before a judge for a detention hearing and was released. Laidlow said she’s not spoken Zarantonello, whom she described as a talented musician.
She attributed the outpouring of donations to Gil’s personality. “Jason touched everybody that he came in contact with, whether they were at work, school or just friends,” she said.