CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — The accuracy of the time stamps recorded on a number of text messages, a surveillance video camera and dispatch records may play a crucial role in the case against Lower Township resident Joshua Malmgren.
Malmgren is charged with first-degree aggravated manslaughter in the deaths of two teenage girls along Bayshore Road in Middle Township. On Thursday, First Assistant Prosecutor Rob Johnson brought in several witnesses involved in the investigation of the July 31, 2012, collision that left cousins Nioami Lazicki, 15, and Ashley Dauber, 13, dead.
The prosecution alleges that Malmgren was under the influence of alcohol and had been texting while driving in the minutes before the crash.
On Thursday, witnesses, including Detective First Class Omar Perez and Sgt. George Meyers, both of the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office, spoke about the the evidence collected including Malmgren’s Motorola cellphone, surveillance video from the Wawa on Bayshore Road in the Villas, and the dispatcher’s record of the time the first call came in about the accident.
Meyers said Malmgren received or sent several texts between 8:58 p.m. and 9:10 p.m. that night. That same evening, the Wawa surveillance cameras showed Malmgren arriving in his 1992 Ford Bronco at 7:45 p.m. and pulling out of the Wawa parking lot around 9:02 p.m. Malmgren was an employee of Wawa at the time.
Meanwhile, the first 911 call reporting that someone had been hit came in at 9:17 p.m.
Defense attorney Ed Weinstock questioned the detectives about the timeline and whether the recorded times were accurate.
Perez, who conducted a forensic examination of the phone, said the time was correct on that device, based on his findings.
Weinstock suggested that the time stamp on the video was likely incorrect, because the distance between the Wawa and the accident, which happened in front of the Green Creek firehouse, was about 3 miles.
Another witness told police Malmgren was traveling about 40 to 45 mph. Weinstock argued that at that speed and that distance, he could have left the Wawa later than the time given by the surveillance video.
Other police witnesses testified that Malmgren had been stopped two days before the crash for driving erratically but he was given only a verbal warning by police at that time.
Police said Malmgren told them that night he had been reaching for his cellphone, which caused him to swerve.
A witness the night of the crash told police Malmgren swerved just before he struck the two girls.
Meyer said he interviewed Malmgren about three hours later and “could smell the odor of alcohol coming from his breath.” But Meyer said Malmgren was coherent and responsive during the interview, though he was also “obviously upset.”
At the start of Thursday’s hearing, Johnson told Superior Court Judge John Porto that Malmgren had rejected a plea agreement that would have required him to serve 25 years in prison, subject to the No Early Release Act. meaning he would have to serve 85 percent of the sentence before being eligible for parole..
Under the proposed plea deal, Malmgren would be required to serve 12 and a half years in prison for the deaths of each of the two girls.
The cousins were killed when they were struck by Malmgren's Ford Bronco as they walked along Bayshore Road near the Green Creek firehouse.
Defense attorney Ed Weinstock told Porto that he and his client had lengthy discussions about the plea offer, and Malmgren did not want to accept the offer.
The case has been scheduled to go to trial June 2.
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