CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Joshua Malmgren, the driver who allegedly struck two teenage girls as they walked down a Middle Township road, was charged with first-degree aggravated manslaughter Monday.
Nioami Lazicki's mother, Christina Lazicki Gaston, rocked back and forth and held her hands together as Superior Court Judge Raymond Batten increased Malmgren’s bail to $350,000, the middle of the bail range, which runs from $200,000 to $500,000.
The upgraded charges came hours before several hundred of the victims’ friends and neighbors held a candlelight vigil on the beach in Wildwood in their memories.
Malmgren, 30, of Lower Township, is charged with hitting Nioami Lazicki, 15, and her cousin Ashley Dauber, 13, of Philadelphia, with the Ford Bronco he was driving as the two girls made their way toward Lazicki’s township home July 31.
The crash took place at about 9:15 p.m. Lazicki and Dauber were pronounced dead at the scene. Lazicki’s younger sister was walking with them, but was not hit.
Malmgren appeared in court Thursday and entered a not guilty plea to the initial charges of vehicular homicide, but his attorney, Brian Pelloni, waived his right to appear Monday when First Assistant Prosecutor Rob Johnson filed the new charges.
Middle Township Detective Daniel McClure presented the complaint warrant to the judge for his signature.
Pelloni also was not in the courtroom, but he participated in the hearing by telephone as family and friends of Lazicki and Dauber listened. Malmgren’s family members sat on the opposite side of the courtroom.
Pelloni asked Batten to postpone a bail review hearing, originally set for Monday, to Thursday because he was new to the case. Malmgren was previously represented by the Office of the Public Defender.
Malmgren’s original bail amount was $50,000, but Batten increased the amount after Johnson filed a warrant for the new charges for each victim.
Pelloni told the judge that Malmgren, a father of four and a longtime Cape May County resident, would not attempt to flee if he was released on bail.
“I don’t believe my client is any type of flight risk whatsoever,” Pelloni said, adding that his client’s family ties are to Cape May County.
Batten said the charges were serious. “There are two victims ... both of whom are deceased,” Batten said.
He then decided to increase the bail to $350,000, a blanket bail for both charges. He said the bail amount was bondable, but Malmgren would not have the option of posting only 10 percent.
Malmgren was also charged with driving while intoxicated, reckless driving, failure to maintain a lane of travel and consumption of alcoholic beverage by an operator of a motor vehicle.
His next court appearance will be 1:30 p.m. Thursday when a bail review and first hearing on the more serious charges will be held.
At the candlelight vigil organized for the two girls who died, more than 200 people grouped together in a circle just after 8 p.m., and a few dozen more people watched from the Boardwalk.
The crowd was mostly made up of local teens and pre-teens who had a connection to Lazicki through school or growing up in the area.
“She was the sweetest girl,” said Johnny Jones, of Dennis Township, who met Lazicki at Cape May Tech High School, where he’ll be a junior this year and she would have been a sophomore.
“She was a great person, “Jones said. “There’s nothing more you can say about that.”
After solemnly standing with candles for about 40 minutes, the group held the candles above their heads, sang “This Little Light Of Mine” and released several purple balloons into the sky.
Afterward, they grouped their candles and glow sticks together in the sand, and there was a collection bucket going around to raise money to build a sidewalk along Bayshore Road where the girls were hit.
The plan is to call it “Faith’s Way,” Faith being Lazicki’s middle name.
Friends said they wanted to hold the vigil at the beach since it was one of Lazicki’s favorite places to be. The girl’s funeral was held on Saturday in Middle Township Dauber’s funeral is scheduled on Wednesday afternoon in Philadelphia.
Not everyone there on Monday night knew the girls or their families, though. Michelle Gillen and Jocelyn Gaghan, both of West Cape May, said they came to share their condolences, but they knew Malmgren.
“He was actually a really, really good guy who just made a really, really bad mistake. ... Three families were destroyed by this,” said Gillen.
Gillen held her grandson, Gaghan’s 2-year-old son, Connor, who asked her where the balloons went that the crowd released.
“They went into Heaven, as prayers for the two girls,” she told him.
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