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Man allegedly shouted racial slur at victim of fatal road rage incident in Belmont, DA says

Henry Tapia, in a photo provided by his mother.
Henry Tapia, in a photo provided by his mother.

As he lay bleeding from a head wound alongside his car on a Belmont street Tuesday afternoon, Henry Tapia told the Belmont police officers providing first aid he feared his life was ending, according to a police report.

“I can’t breathe,” the 34-year-old Black and Latino man originally from Boston told the officers who provided emergency oxygen from their cruiser. “I’m going to die.”

The exchange between Tapia and police took place on Upland Road shortly after 4 p.m. Tuesday when a road rage incident between the victim and Dean S. Kapsalis ended with Kapsalis allegedly hurling a racial slur — and then driving over Tapia with his red Dodge Dakota pickup truck, authorities alleged Wednesday.

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Tapia was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he died of injuries suffered when Kapsalis allegedly drove the pickup directly at him as he stood next to the driver’s side door of his Honda Civic looking at the oncoming truck, according to Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan’s office.

Ryan said in a news conference Wednesday that the disturbing facts of the case “do not speak to the loss . . . suffered by Mr. Tapia’s family.”

“We are reminded that incidents like this, that are allegedly born of hateful speech, have a lasting impact on families, friends, and our neighbors here in this community,” Ryan said, adding later, “We cannot and will not tolerate behavior that is rooted in racial bias and meant to discriminate, because it is not only the victims and their families who suffer, it is all of us.’'

Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac offered his condolences to Tapia’s family and said that like most Belmont residents, he was shocked by the deadly attack.

“Belmont’s a great community,” MacIsaac said. “We have great people that live here, people that work hard to make sure Belmont is a welcoming community, one that’s accepting of people of various different races and backgrounds.”

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Kapsalis — who is listed as white in a Belmont police report — appeared in Cambridge District Court Wednesday. He was ordered held pending a dangerousness hearing on Monday via videoconference. Not-guilty pleas were entered on his behalf to charges of a civil rights violation causing injury, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury, and leaving the scene of a crash after causing personal injury.

Dean Kapsalis, of Hudson, was arraigned in Cambridge District Court on Wednesday.
Dean Kapsalis, of Hudson, was arraigned in Cambridge District Court on Wednesday.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

Ryan said further charges could be added and existing charges could be upgraded as the investigation continues.

Tapia’s mother, Miostis Morel, said in a telephone interview that Kapsalis allegedly shouting a racial epithet at her son before driving his truck into him was an extreme act of discrimination.

“Anybody who does that has the intention to kill,’' she said. “And that’s what he did.”

Morel said her son lived in Belmont and was returning home from his job working for a highway construction company to the residence he shared with his girlfriend.

“I think about what happened and I say, ‘Why? Why? Why? Why couldn’t he just leave?” Morel said. “In my eyes, that is a bad person.”

Two eyewitnesses told police they saw the victim standing in the middle of Upland Road near his car and Kapsalis was some distance away near his red pickup truck, according to the police report filed in Cambridge court. The men were shouting at each other angrily, but the witnesses said they did not know what the argument was about.

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The incident seemed to have come to an end, and Tapia started climbing into the driver’s seat of his Honda. But at that point, at least two witnesses told police, they heard Kapsalis shout at Tapia.

Kapsalis allegedly shouted a racial slur, witnesses told police, the report said.

“What did you call me?” Tapia asked as he stepped out of his car and back onto Upland Street, police wrote. “You want to try and call me that again?”

It was at that point that Kapsalis sped towards Tapia, authorities allege.

A witness told police “as Kapsalis kept driving after impact, Tapia disappeared under the vehicle.” Another witness told them that she watched as Kapsalis started driving toward where Tapia was standing.

“She looked away because she knew what was going to happen and got scared’' police wrote in the report. “She was in such a panic she didn’t even realize Kapsalis had driven away.”

Ryan said Tapia “was dragged a short distance by that pickup truck before it fled the scene.”

Kapsalis drove away but was driven to the Belmont police station about 30 minutes later by his girlfriend, police said. While his legal address is in Hudson, neighbors said Kapsalis has been living with his girlfriend at an Upland Road apartment.

In the wake of the fatal crash, Kapsalis was declared an immediate threat to public safety by the Registry of Motor Vehicles and his right to drive was suspended indefinitely.

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Since getting a driver’s license around 1987, Kapsalis has been cited for speeding at least 17 times, was involved in at least 7 surcharge crashes, and had his right to drive suspended at least 6 times, usually for a cluster of traffic violations in a short period of time, according to RMV records.

Kapsalis was convicted of assault and battery by a Woburn District Court jury of six in 2014 and was given a one-year sentence at the Middlesex House of Correction that was suspended for one year, according to court records. There is no indication in the court records that he was jailed in connection with the case.

Morel said Tapia, who struggled with a learning disability while growing up in Boston, was hoping to soon buy a house and to strengthen his role as a father to his three children. He also was an excellent fine arts painter, she said.

“My son, he was doing really good,” she said. “He has so many beautiful plans. … He was working day and night. He was so proud.”

Morel said she made some food for her son to share with co-workers on Tuesday, a happy time for both mother and son. “He was always talking about his co-workers and how good they were,’' she said. “He was grateful for his job and the opportunity to work hard.”

Morel started to weep as she recalled how she and her son parted.

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“I told him I loved him so much. I was so proud of him,’' she said. “Now, I just want to cry by myself.”

Jeremiah Manion and Matt Lee of the Globe Staff and correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this report.




John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.