News Reporter Patrick Lakamp has covered his share of trials, but he's never been in a courtroom as high-tension as the one he's in right now.
It's the trial in Erie County Court of Dr. James G. Corasanti, charged with manslaughter and driving away from the teenage skateboarder he fatally struck, Alexandria Rice, on July 8 on Heim Road in Amherst.
"There have been moments when it seemed like it was getting personal among the lawyers," he told me when I called him to talk about the trial. "It's testy in there."
The topic and the circumstances could not be more tragic or serious.
Nevertheless it may be unsurprising that there's some legal theater going on. Lakamp talked about an apparent reprimand on Friday from Judge Sheila DiTullio after Corasanti held a cup of water up to one of his lawyers, Thomas Burton, who is disabled and in a wheelchair.
"She called all the lawyers up to the bench," Lakamp said. "What Corasanti was doing put him in a sympathetic light to the jury and it seemed obvious to me that she didn't want that, or anything like it."
He noted that the judge is effectively keeping all the lawyers in line.
The sheer legal firepower is notable, as well, Lakamp said. "I've never covered a trial where there are three first-line attorneys on each side." He was talking about Kelley Omel, James Bargnesi and Christopher Belling from the District Attorney's office, and Joel Daniels, Cheryl Meyers-Buth and Thomas Burton for the defense. All, he said, are impressive.
Why such public fascination with this trial? Lakamp, whom you can follow on Twitter at @lakampbuffnews and in his live updates on the News website, says it's simple enough: "The fact that he's a doctor and left. That's the whole thing. That and the contrast between the doctor in his BMW and the girl on a skateboard." Her dream, he noted, was to study fashion design; she had hoped to do so at Erie Community College.