Teenage skateboarder Alexandria "Alix" Rice was struck with such force by Dr. James G. Corasanti's 2010 BMW that she was thrown 167 feet from the point of impact -- more than half the length of a football field, a prosecutor said Thursday.
"This is a simple case -- a simple case of one tragic decision after another," prosecutor James F. Bargnesi said in his opening statement at Corasanti's manslaughter trial in Erie County Court. "Tragic decisions made criminal by the multiple stupid and selfish and, quite simply, avoidable choices of this defendant."
A drunken Corasanti was speeding and texting when he struck the young woman last July 8 on Heim Road in Amherst, Bargnesi said. And then, according to the prosecutor, the Getzville doctor made perhaps his most egregious and reprehensible choice of all: He left Alix Rice there to die.
"This defendant chose to run to his home and hide, and not tell anybody," Bargnesi said.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Joel L. Daniels said that Corasanti was not impaired and that he did not know he had struck a skateboarder. When he realized later he had done so, he did not alert authorities because "he just panicked," Daniels said.
"Dr. Corasanti is not guilty of any crimes," Daniels said. "This was an accident. It was tragic. It was heartbreaking. A young girl's life is over."
Corasanti was not driving drunk, Daniels said.
The doctor will testify, Daniels said. "We have waited patiently for our turn. I tell you now, Jim Corasanti will testify. He wants to tell you what happened that night."
When Corasanti's 4,700-pound car struck Rice, the impact blasted the young woman out of her shoes, making such a loud noise that residents came out of their homes to see what had happened, Bargnesi said.
One motorist said the impact made the "most god-awful sound" he had ever heard, Bargnesi said.
That witness was traveling in the opposite direction of Corasanti -- he saw both the doctor's car and the skateboarder -- and he feared the worst as Corasanti's car passed him by, Bargnesi said. Corasanti's car was traveling too close to the curb, where the other motorist had just seen Rice riding her longboard in the bike lane.
When the worst happened, the motorist stopped and turned around, so he and his wife could help the 5-foot-5, 142-pound teenager.
Rice's shoes and broken longboard were on the roadside. But they could not find her.
"Where are you?" they screamed as they furiously looked, according to Bargnesi. "We're here! Where are you?"
They eventually found her crumpled, broken body on another lawn.
Her neck was broken so severely that only her skin kept her head attached to her body, Bargnesi said.
Finding Corasanti took some effort, too, because he drove away.
But a trail of washer fluid leaking from his damaged car led a sharp-eyed Amherst police officer to his neighborhood.
Headlight washer nozzles sprayed fluid on the headlights of Corasanti's car. The impact cracked a compartment on the car's bumper that contained a nozzle and fluid began leaking, Bargnesi said.
The police officer used a flashlight to follow the trail of fluid on foot. The trail stopped three houses shy of where Corasanti lives, less than a mile from where the fatal hit-and-run occurred.
At about the same time, 53 minutes after Rice was fatally struck at about 11:23 p.m., another police officer encountered three women in the same Getzville neighborhood. He pulled his patrol car over and asked them from his car window if they had seen a car with front-end damage drive by.
They ignored him, Bargnesi said.
So he got out of his car and approached them. He asked again. Did any of them see a car with front-end damage?
"There's no car around here like that," one of the women told the officer, according to Bargnesi.
While not getting any help, the officer did get suspicious.
He called his department for more information about who lived there. It turned out he had found the defendant's wife, Laureen Corasanti, 45, on her front lawn, and two of her neighbors. "At this defendant's house, with women on the lawn, with the garage door closed, no one is offering any information," Bargnesi said.
"They're on to something," Bargnesi told jurors of the police officers.
By this time, unknown to police officers, Corasanti had parked his car in the garage.
It was only after he checked it for damage, and discovered the extent of it, that he began to worry about what he hit, Daniels said.
Laureen Corasanti had looked at the car, too.
Then she drove to the scene to try to find out what was happening. She saw police cars and an ambulance.
"She didn't stop and tell police what she knew," Bargnesi said.
Twenty-eight minutes after the fatal incident, a security camera at the Corasanti house recorded him leaving the house and running down the street, Bargnesi said.
A couple of his neighbors soon went looking for him, and they found him around the corner.
An upset Corasanti told them he hit something.
Maybe it was a deer, one of his neighbors said.
"No," Corasanti replied, according to Bargnesi. "I sent my wife back and she saw the ambulance."
Even after Corasanti realized he had struck someone, he still had not called 911 or the police, Bargnesi said.
Instead, according to the prosecutor, he told his neighbors, "I've ruined my life. I've ruined by career."
One neighbor encouraged Corasanti "to do the right thing."
"What is the right thing?" Corasanti asked him.
"You know what the right thing is. You have to turn yourself in," the neighbor replied.
"I'm not going to jail," Corasanti said, according to the prosecutor.
Meanwhile, the other neighbor called a friend who is a police officer.
The off-duty police officer told his friend to put Corasanti on the phone.
An hour and 18 minutes after the fatal incident, "that's how this defendant makes his very first contact" with police, Bargnesi said.
"Who are you and where are you?" the off-duty officer asked Corasanti.
The off-duty officer then told Corasanti to walk to a nearby service station, where police would meet him.
When Corasanti arrived at the service station, he asked, "How is the girl? Is she dead?"
The arresting lieutenant told him Alix Rice died.
"This defendant hangs his head in the back of the police car," Bargnesi said.
Daniels said Corasanti did not know he hit someone in the first minutes after the incident.
Rice died instantly, so even if the doctor had stopped, there was nothing he would have been able to do to save her, Daniels said. Officials said she was pronounced dead 42 minutes after the incident.
While attending a couples golf event at the Transit Valley Country Club earlier that evening, Corasanti ordered rum and Diet Pepsi mixed drinks, a server at the country club testified. And a friend ordered a Benedictine & Brandy for him. Corasanti also ordered a $100 bottle of Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon. The server testified that he did not appear impaired.
Corasanti chose to drive, Bargnesi said, even though his wife had driven herself to the country club in her own vehicle.
He drank enough so that his blood-alcohol content was over the legal limit five hours after the incident, Bargnesi said.
Corasanti was speeding and texting as he drove home from the country club, the prosecutor said.
Bargnesi said that the road was well-lit and that Rice was wearing reflective clothing. "Alix on her longboard could be seen if this defendant was sober and paying attention," he said. "Alix never had a chance."
Daniels said he would challenge the blood test result showing that Corasanti was drunk. He said Corasanti had indeed texted during the drive home, but not near the time of the incident.
The lawyer also disagreed with Bargnesi on how well-lit the road was, and he said that none of Rice's clothing was reflective.
"It was dark," Daniels said. "Jim Corasanti will tell you he was driving in his own lane and his car was under control."