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Man charged with murder in fatal hit-and-run crash in Belmont that involved alleged racial slur

The driver who allegedly used a racial slur before driving his pickup truck into Henry O. Tapia on a Belmont street last week was charged Monday with murder.

Dean S. Kapsalis, 54, had previously been charged with civil rights violations and assault and battery following the incident on Upland Road last Tuesday that killed Tapia, a 34-year-old Black and Latino man.

In Cambridge District Court Monday, Middlesex Assistant District Attorney Nicole Allain said that the state medical examiner concluded Tapia was fatally injured when he was struck by the pickup truck Kapsalis was driving when he slammed into Tapia, who was standing outside his own car after 4 p.m.

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“The victim’s death was the result of being struck and run over by the defendant’s vehicle,” she told Cambridge District Court Judge Ina Howard-Hogan.

Tapia, who was well known in Tekken gaming circles in Greater Boston and the father of three children, suffered massive injuries, Allain said, including two broken legs, a collapsed lung, “air in the sac around his heart” and “obvious deformities” to the orbital region of his head and left forearm and left leg.

Upland Road residents rushed to help Tapia, who told Belmont police officers his pain level was 10 out of 10 and that he was fighting for each breath he was struggling to take.

“I can’t breathe,” he told police officers. “I’m going to die.”

Allain said Tapia was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital, where medical personnel said that on arrival he did not have a “palpable pulse” or blood pressure. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Investigators spoke with Upland Road residents and recovered a video from a resident’s surveillance camera that captured some of the conversation between the two men over each other’s driving habits on Upland Road, where Kapsalis was living with his girlfriend. Tapia pulled over and got out of his sedan during the verbal argument, she said, citing witness statements.

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The argument “appeared to be de-escalating and settling down when witnesses heard the defendant curse at the victim and the defendant then called him the n-word,” Allain said.

Tapia, she said, responded by asking Kapsalis: “What did you say to me? Do you want to say that again?”

At that point, Kapsalis allegedly drove the pickup directly into Tapia, who fell underneath the vehicle after being struck. “Witnesses said the defendant accelerated in the truck and drove it straight towards the victim,” Allain said.

Kapsalis drove off, but later surrendered to police at his girlfriend’s behest, according to Allain and court records. After being read his Miranda rights, Kapsalis allegedly told police that he feared for his life, claiming that Tapia had threatened to shoot him as Tapia was returning to his car.

His girlfriend also claimed Tapia threatened to shoot Kapsalis, the prosecutor said.

However, the prosecutor noted, not one other witness interviewed by police backed up the allegation by Kapsalis and his girlfriend. No gun was found on Tapia’s person or in his car, she said.

“The defendant and his girlfriend were the only people who told police about the allegation that the victim threatened the use of a gun,” Allain said.

A not guilty plea was entered on Kapsalis’s behalf to the charge of murder and a second new charge of leaving the scene after causing a death. Kapsalis remains charged with civil rights violations causing serious injury, and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, prosecutors said.

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Kapsalis was ordered held without bail. Defense attorney John H. Cunha Jr. asked for a cash bail, a request that was denied by the judge.

He is due back in court March 1.

Tapia, who was heading to the home he shared with his girlfriend on a nearby Belmont street, was mourned by hundreds of residents during a candlelight vigil last week and online, where friends have set up a GoFundMe account that has collected $140,000 from 2,100 donors. The original goal was $10,000.

Tapia’s long-time girlfriend Courtney Morton was among those listening to the telehearing for Kapsalis Monday. Through a friend, she declined comment.




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