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On stand, Corasanti recounts fatal night; Says he did not see Rice before or after car hit her

Dr. James G. Corasanti on Friday recalled feeling "fine" as he drove home on Heim Road that warm July night.

He said he barely exceeded the posted speed limit of 35 mph in his leased 2010 BMW, the air conditioning set at 67 degrees and his music -- "probably Clapton" -- playing "moderately loud."

Then came the thud.

"I felt my car ran over something on the road," Corasanti said from the witness stand, speaking softly in his own defense at his manslaughter and hit-and-run trial in Erie County Court.

Corasanti said he did not see 18-year-old longboard skater Alexandria "Alix" Rice -- before or after his car struck and threw her more than than half the length of a football field, killing her instantly.

"I didn't see her," Corasanti said.

Nor did he see the crumpled hood or other damage to his car.

He said he did not see a reason to stop.

"There was nothing I saw or felt or heard that suggested I should stop my car," Corasanti said under questioning from Joel L. Daniels, his defense lawyer.

Only later, after arriving home and finding human tissue on the front of his car, did he begin to realize what happened in that "fraction of a second" on Heim, he said.

Forty-five minutes into his testimony, after some 250 questions from Daniels, the 56-year-old doctor wept as he recounted his version of what happened that night.

Would he have stopped had he known he struck the young woman, his lawyer asked.

"Of course," Corasanti said.

What would you have done for her?

"Whatever I could," he replied.

After arriving home and parking his car in the garage, Corasanti said he looked at the front right of his car.

He saw the crumpled hood.

"I couldn't believe the amount of damage compared to what I felt [at impact]," he said.

He said he went inside his house and told his wife, "I ran over something on Heim Road."

The two went to the garage to look over the car with a flashlight, because there was only a flickering light in the garage.

They saw the damaged headlight, the crumpled hood, red marks that looked like blood and "a little piece of yellow tissue," he said.

Laureen Corasanti got into her vehicle and drove to Heim Road. Dr. Corasanti said he did not tell her to go there.

"She just went," he said.

He said he still did not know what happened, but he was getting anxious, so he called lawyer Thomas H. Burton, his friend of 30 years.

"I didn't know what to do," he said, explaining why he did not call authorities.

Sit tight, he was told. A lawyer who works with Burton was on her way to the Corasanti home.

Laureen Corasanti returned home "frantic," Dr. Corasanti testified.

His wife saw an ambulance and police cars at the spot on Heim where his car "ran over something" just minutes earlier.

"I hit a person," the doctor said, sobbing in court as he recalled that night.

"A lot of things were going through my mind," Corasanti said.

He decided to leave the house. He said he just wanted to walk.

His wife blocked the front door, but he got past her.

Corasanti ran from his home, 28 minutes after the fatal incident, his exit captured by his home's security surveillance system.

He said he did not want to surrender to police at his home.

"I didn't want to have the police come to the house with my son there," he testified.

"I was just distraught," he said. "I just wanted to walk."

Crying on the witness stand, Corasanti was asked by his lawyer if he wished to harm himself after bolting from his home.

"For a short time," he said.

Two of his neighbors found Corasanti and stayed with him.

He said he told them a lot of things.

"I spent my whole life trying to take care of people," he recalled telling them.

Daniels questioned Corasanti for about an hour and a half, and then prosecutor James F. Bargnesi, during three hours of cross-examination, asked the doctor about his drinking, texting and driving that night. Corasanti will return to the stand on Monday.

Bargnesi questioned Corasanti in a disbelieving tone and, at times, a caustic one.

The prosecutor brought up the several trips Corasanti took -- since the fatal incident -- to the Naples, Fla., area, where his condominium is located in a gated community with a golf course.

"So distraught that you needed to get away and unwind a little?" Bargnesi asked.

Bargnesi also asked Corasanti about his salary in 2010 -- $400,000 as a doctor with the Buffalo Medical Group. If he worked another 20 years, Corasanti had the potential future income of roughly $8 million, Bargnesi said.

"What his salary was has nothing to do with this case," Daniels objected.

Later, Daniels asked for a mistrial on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct over Bargnesi's questions about Corasanti's salary and trips to Florida.

"We believe those questions were highly prejudicial and inflammatory," Daniels told Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio.

"His credibility is at issue," prosecutor Christopher J. Belling told the judge, saying jurors are entitled to those facts as they evaluate Corasanti's testimony.

DiTullio denied the mistrial request, the second one the defense has sought since the trial started April 26.

AT&T phone records show that Corasanti sent seven texts and received four texts after 11 p.m., which is about the time Corasanti said he left Transit Valley Country Club to go home.

Corasanti said some of the texts came when he was in the country club's parking lot, and he said he sent or read the others while stopped at traffic signals or signs at intersections -- none while actually driving.

"You put the phone down just in time to not see Alix, right?" Bargnesi said.

An accident reconstruction investigator for the Amherst Police Department said Corasanti's car was most likely traveling between 46 and 52 mph when he fatally struck Rice.

"I don't think my speed played a role," Corasanti told the prosecutor.

Bargnesi also pointed out a blood test showed Corasanti registered a 0.10 percent blood-alcohol content five hours after the late-night hit-and-run incident.

"I wasn't drunk," Corasanti said, despite the over-the-legal-limit reading. "I did not feel the effects of alcohol."

And yet, Bargnesi noted, Corasanti refused to voluntarily submit to a blood test.

One was taken by a judge's order.

"You're the digestive expert," Bargnesi told the gastroenterologist. "And you knew how much you drank that night. You could have said, 'I am sober. I can take the test. This test will show I'm OK.' "

Police investigators have previously testified about the gouge created on the Heim Road shoulder, or bike lane, where Rice was struck.

Yet, Corasanti told Bargnesi, "I believe I was in the driving lane, sir."

"I don't know if she could be seen or not," Corasanti said of Rice. "I didn't see her."

"To see Alix that night," Bargnesi asked him, "you'd have to be looking, true?"