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Man is arraigned in Lunenburg crash that killed friend

Mourners embraced Sunday at a memorial for Austin Robbins at the site where he was killed in a car crash in Lunenburg.
Mourners embraced Sunday at a memorial for Austin Robbins at the site where he was killed in a car crash in Lunenburg. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

FITCHBURG — A Gardner man was arraigned Monday on several charges in the death of a close friend in a Lunenburg car crash.

Joseph Kapp, 19, is charged with motor vehicle homicide by driving under the influence of liquor with negligence, in the death of Austin Robbins, 18. Robbins was a passenger in Kapp’s car when the vehicle ran off Hollis Road early Saturday morning, striking several trees.

Kapp, who would soon be starting his sophomore year at Boston University, is also charged with driving under the influence of liquor with negligence causing serious bodily harm, driving under the influence of liquor, and negligent driving.

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He was ordered held on $2,500 cash bail or $25,000 with surety.

During the arraignment in Fitchburg District Court, the courtroom was filled with Kapp’s family and friends of Kapp and Robbins.

Assistant District Attorney Anthony H. Melia said that when police arrived at the accident scene about 3:15 a.m. they found Kapp standing in the road.

He allegedly pointed out one of his passengers, Sean McNiff, 19, of Lunenburg, lying in the road. McNiff was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital, where he was treated for injuries that were not life-threatening.

When police went into the woods to reach the car, they found Robbins, a close friend of Kapp, in the back seat, hanging out of the car. He was later pronounced dead, Melia said.

Melia said Kapp told police they had been at a party at Fitchburg State University. He said he had been drinking, and that he was speeding and showing off at the time of the crash.

Police found a false identification card on Kapp that he used to purchase alcohol because he was underage, according to Melia.

“At the police station he joked about how the ID has never let him down,” Melia said.

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Kapp’s lawyer said Kapp has no criminal history and has never been in court for anything. He said he was captain of the football and baseball teams in high school but also a top student studying business in college.

“His life has been irreparably and permanently changed by what happened in this case,” he said.

Outside the court after the arraignment, Burke said his client and police did not mention anything about the identification card statement to him. He said police told him that after Kapp’s arrest, he was polite and acted like a gentleman.

Many of the friends who attended the arraignment gathered later at a roadside memorial in Lunenburg. When they left, Carol Robbins, Robbins’s mother, stopped by after making funeral arrangements,

“This is a tragic loss of a beautiful person,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. “AJ was extremely loved.”

Robbins said she has not yet been able to bring herself to speak to Kapp. She said she saw his parents at a vigil, but she is not ready to talk to Kapp.

“It’s too soon,” she said. “I just think they made a terrible mistake and AJ paid the ultimate price.”