CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE – A Lower Township man was sentenced to 18 years in state prison on Friday for the 2012 drunk-driving crash that killed two teenage girls who were walking for ice-cream on Bayshore Road.

Joshua Malmgren, 33, received nine years for each count after pleading guilty earlier this year to aggravated manslaughter in the crash that killed Ashley Dauber, 13, of Philadelphia, and her cousin Nioami Lazicki-Gaston, 15, of Middle Township, on July 31, 2012.

“I am a monster. I am so lost,” Malmgren told the court after expressing his remorse to the girls’ families.

After a day that involved three trips to a Lower Township liquor store to buy more beer and Sambuca, Malmgren was driving on Bayshore Road in the Del Haven section of Middle Township around 9:16 p.m. when his sport-utility vehicle drifted off the road and struck the two girls. A third girl, Nioami’s sister Farrahanne Gaston, was nearly struck as well.

Malmgren stopped and called 911. Both girls died at the scene.

Malmgren had a blood-alcohol level of 0.18 or more than twice the state’s legal limit. He also was taking prescription pain medicine for a broken left arm that exacerbated the effects of the alcohol, according to court records.

First Assistant Prosecutor Rob Johnson said Malmgren was texting when he took his eyes off the road.

The emotional hearing started with a video slideshow of family photos of the girls accompanied by music by performers such as Eric Clapton and Guns n’ Roses.

The girls’ young, smiling faces stared back at the defendant from pictures on twin easels.

Nioami would have been a senior this year at Cape May County Technical High School where she was planning to study criminal justice.

Farrahanne Gaston read an essay to the court that her sister wrote before her death. In it, Nioami, talked about how much her family meant to her.

“Joshua, I forgive you. I forgive you not because you deserve it but because I deserve peace,” Gaston said.

Bill Gaston said his family would never be the same.

“Nioami was always more worried about others than herself. Sometimes, I swear I can hear her tell me it’s OK,” he said. “The pain that rests in our hearts is just as heavy today.”

Ashley’s family wore matching purple T-shirts warning of the dangers of drunk driving. Relatives said the curly-haired, green-eyed girl loved her family and doted on her little brother.

She listened to boy bands and liked scary movies.

“I won’t be able to hear her voice again. I won’t be able to do her hair on her wedding day,” Ashley’s sister, Kaitlyn Dauber, told Malmgren. “I miss her so much.”

Court staff distributed three boxes of tissues to the two-dozen family members who sobbed throughout the hearing. Head bowed, the defendant, too, was in tears.

Malmgren has custody of his two children, including a disabled child. He was assistant manager of a convenience store. The crash was his first DWI. Apart from an assault charge as a juvenile, he had a clean criminal record.

A court review determined he was bipolar and continued to drink alcohol with his medications after the crash. He allegedly tried to commit suicide in Wildwood before police there intervened.

Johnson asked the judge to impose a heavy sentence as a warning to the public about the dangers of drinking and driving and texting and driving.

Two of Malmgren’s friends had offered to drive him home when they observed he was intoxicated. He refused.