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Rice visible 350 ft. prior to being hit, officer says; Teen 'could have or should have' been seen by driver

A motorist "could have or should have" spotted 18-year-old longboard skater Alexandria Rice about 350 feet away -- longer than a football field -- along the stretch of Heim Road where she was fatally struck, an accident reconstruction investigator testified Monday.

Asked by a prosecutor to describe lighting on the road in Amherst, Senior Investigator Robert C. McMahon of the town Police Department said, "It's very good."

When Dr. James G. Corasanti's BMW struck "Alix" Rice late on the night of July 8, she was thrown in the air at least 40 feet and then skidded across nearly 39 feet of concrete before coming to rest on a lawn, McMahon said in Erie County Court.

When struck, "she's in some type of squatted position. Her body immediately vaults to the front," McMahon told jurors.

McMahon appeared as the prosecution's only witness on the 11th day of Corasanti's manslaughter and hit-and-run trial.

Corasanti's defense lawyers strenuously objected to McMahon's testimony concerning Rice's visibility.

"That is an opinion that is incredibly prejudicial," defense attorney Thomas H. Burton told the judge after jurors left the courtroom.

Burton objected to McMahon talking about a photograph that prosecutor Kelley A. Omel displayed in court showing the view of Heim from the "point of possible perception."

Burton said the photo was taken during the day, not from the perspective of a driver, and without accounting for Rice's crouched position.

Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio overruled Burton's objection but said he can question McMahon's finding during cross-examination, possibly beginning today.

McMahon's testimony about Rice's visibility and other issues is important to both sides in the trial because his reconstruction of the fatal incident gives jurors facts about how and where Rice was struck.

The crux of Corasanti's defense is that the Getzville doctor did not see the teenager on her longboard.

So McMahon's testimony that a motorist "could have or should have" seen Rice from such a distance could be damaging to Corasanti if jurors find it credible.

"Whether she was crouched, whether she was moving on her board, what direction she was facing, he didn't know," defense lawyer Joel L. Daniels said about Corasanti during his opening statement. "He didn't know because he couldn't see her.

"He'll tell you, he's driven that route down Heim Road countless times, up and down Heim," Daniels said. "He'll tell you the last thing he'd ever expect was someone riding a skateboard late at night."

Prosecutors, in turn, say Corasanti was driving drunk, speeding and about a foot into the bike lane, all while texting back and forth on his phone while behind the wheel that night.

The lighting along Heim Road remains a point of contention in the trial.

"It's about 11:20 at night, give or take. It's dark," Daniels has said. "I don't care what they say about lights out there on Heim Road. I'm telling you, we'll show you, it was dark."

Prosecutors have said Rice was struck with such force by Corasanti's car that she landed 167 feet from the point of impact -- more than half the length of a football field.

McMahon described Rice's trajectory as straight.

The investigator said police could pinpoint the location of where she was struck because of the gouge created on the Heim shoulder, or bike lane. A part of Rice's nearly 4-foot longboard was driven into the pavement at the point of impact, he said.

McMahon said that he looked over the road again last week and that the gouge was still there.

The gouge in the shoulder on Heim is "just over 12 inches" from the driving lane, McMahon said.

Rice was traveling at 5 mph on her longboard, according to McMahon, who calculated her speed based on information given to him by Mark Rowland of Getzville, the motorist who previously testified that Rice had crossed Heim in front of his car in a crouched position as she skated toward the bike lane.

McMahon said that it took Rice about 7 seconds to ride 48 feet across Heim in a diagonal direction.

After being struck by Corasanti's car, McMahon said, she was thrown at least 40 feet in the air. "We know that Alix vaulted over that curb," he said.

If she had struck the curb, her body would have either come to rest in the street or at least leave some evidence of striking it, he said.

"She did not strike anything and bounce off," McMahon said.

McMahon said he noted missing grass and "ground disturbance" about 75 feet from the point of impact. That's about the length of a tennis court.

"I believe that's significant," McMahon said of the patch of grass, between the curb and a sidewalk, where he believes she hit the ground. "It would show me she's on the ground tumbling."

Rice's skidding over a concrete sidewalk and concrete apron that connects a driveway to Heim led to the severe abrasions seen on her autopsy photos, he said.

"Make no mistake, she's missing skin and tissue from her backside," McMahon said.

Police found the first biological evidence nearly 115 feet from the point of impact, he said.

Rice's cellphone was found 27 feet beyond her body.

"It was either attached to her body or in her hand," McMahon said. "I think it was in her hand."

McMahon also said he inspected Corasanti's 2010 BMW, alongside a BMW mechanic, and ruled out any mechanical problem as a contributing factor to the fatal incident.

"We found nothing wrong with the car," McMahon said. "I didn't think I'd find anything wrong with a $100,000 BMW with 17,500 miles on it."

email: plakamp@buffnews.com