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Jury deliberating Corasanti case after dramatic closings Contrasts sharp over fatal hit-run

A defense attorney Tuesday portrayed one picture of what happened the night of July 8 when Dr. James G. Corasanti struck and killed an 18-year-old longboard skater in Amherst.

A good man struck a "small, dark silhouette" as he drove home but did not realize he struck a person until after arriving home, defense lawyer Cheryl Meyers-Buth said. And then he panicked.

"He wasn't driving recklessly," Meyers-Buth said. "He just couldn't see her."

A prosecutor offered a far different version in Erie County Court.

The drunken doctor, on his way home from a country club outing, was texting, speeding and driving in the shoulder of Heim Road when he fatally struck the teenager, prosecutor James F. Bargnesi said.

The prosecutor told jurors not to accept Corasanti's "thought-out, prepared, planned, paid-for and carefully delivered excuses."

The 56-year-old Getzville physician has spent months preparing what he would say, Bargnesi said.

"This was his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I submit to you that this defendant was prepared with an excuse for every single, minute detail of this case. And that preparation was obvious," the prosecutor told jurors.

"No one in this room expected him to get up on the witness stand and say, 'You're right, Mr. Bargnesi. I was drunk. I was texting. And I was speeding. And when I killed Alix, I was in the bike lane and I knew it.' No one expected him to say that, right?

"That doesn't even happen on TV or in the movies, much less in a real criminal courtroom," Bargnesi said. "So, instead, we heard one excuse after the next -- one stupid, selfish and ridiculous excuse."

After striking Rice, "the defendant keeps going because he knows what he drank, so he can't stop," Bargnesi told jurors. "This defendant keeps going because he cares only about himself."

The case of the doctor accused of hit-and-run and manslaughter in the death of Alexandria Rice now rests in the hands of the jury. Jurors deliberated more than three hours Tuesday evening. Deliberations resume today. Jurors are being sequestered.

In the first hour of deliberations, jurors sent three notes to the judge asking to see autopsy photos, pictures of Corasanti's BMW and the statement of a key witness. They also asked for another reading of the law on leaving the scene of an incident.

Earlier Tuesday, jurors listened to Meyers-Buth's closing argument that Corasanti did not see Rice as he drove along Heim Road a shade above the speed limit.

Corasanti had never before seen someone skating on Heim that late at night.

"We all know what she's wearing," she said. "Her shorts are black. Her shoes are black. Her back pack is black. Her hair is dark."

Her lime-green top is not reflective, Meyers-Buth told jurors. "If she was bent over and crouched, you'd probably see nothing. And if she had her black bag on her back, she'd be nothing more than a dark shadow on a dark road."

Meyers-Buth said the defense team has tried to be respectful to Rice's family and to the longboard skater's memory during the trial.

"This was a terrible, tragic accident," she told jurors. "We all know that. What Miss Rice was doing and how she was doing it is part of the picture you should hear."

Corasanti had his windows closed and the air conditioning on as he played music. A motor inside each door seeled the doors shut airtight. "This car was designed to dampen outside noise," she said of the 17-foot-long aerodynamic "performance car."

He heard a bump, she said. But he didn't see anything. He didn't apply his brakes. Nothing came over his hood. His windshield was not cracked. Corasanti did not see his buckled hood.

The impact did not trigger any sensors inside his car, she said, so he kept driving.

"That's not a crime," she said. "That's not reckless. That's just an accident."

Bargnesi scoffed at the notion that Corasanti could not hear what happened. Those who live near the scene of the fatal incident rushed outside when they heard Corasanti's BMW strike Rice, even though they had their windows closed and televisions on, he said.

A neighbor who lives almost the length of a football field away ran out to see what happened. A motorist who had just driven past the teenage longboard skater and saw Corasanti's car speeding toward him and the skateboarder said he heard an "ungodly" noise when the doctor's BMW struck her.

Throughout his closing argument, Bargnesi adopted a disbelieving tone and, at times, a caustic one, at what he called the defense's ridiculous and sometimes offensive excuses for Corasanti's actions that night.

"It just keep cruising along," Bargnesi said of the car. "Come on."

Corasanti did not see Rice that night because he was texting, speeding and driving drunk over the fog line, Bargnesi said.

Meyers-Buth said the prosecution brought in only sections of the car's crumpled front end for jurors to see, rather than making the entire car available for them to inspect.

Prosecutors, she said, wanted jurors to see the most dramatic damage, but Meyers-Buth said the car was designed to absorb "energy" from an impact on the front end so as to protect the driver.

The point, she explained, was that while the doctor realized he hit something, he had no idea it was a human being.

In addition, a trail of fluid that leaked from the car and led a police officer to Corasanti's neighborhood was straight and showed no swerving on the pavement, proving the doctor was in control of the vehicle.

"This morning for two hours we hear an appeal to sympathy," Bargnesi said of Meyers-Buth's summation.

"We hear a desperate effort to scare each and every one of you," he told jurors. "We hear accusations that Alix Rice did something wrong, causing her own death.

"If he wasn't drunk, he would have taken the Breathalyzer test," Bargnesi said. "And we would have that reading here with us in this courtroom.

"If he wasn't drunk, this defendant's blood test figure five hours later would not say he was," the prosecutor added, noting Corasanti registered a 0.10 percent blood-alcohol content reading -- .02 over the legal limit -- in a court-ordered blood draw.

"Every excuse from this defendant on that witness stand was just that, one excuse after another, from his version, and his version alone, of what took place, and nothing more."

Bargnesi praised a motorist for his accounting of what he saw and heard the night of July 8.

Mark Rowland, of Getzville, previously testified that he had just driven past Rice -- she had crossed the road 20 feet in front of him -- when he saw Corasanti's approaching car partially in the bike lane where she was riding her longboard.

"Short of a video, Mr. Rowland is as good as it gets," Bargnesi told jurors, calling him a "phenomenal" witness.

"He couldn't be any more help in your deliberations," he said. Rowland said in court that Rice "was highly visible" on Heim.

In the jury's first note to Judge Sheila A. DiTullio, jurors asked for Rowland's statement, among other exhibits.

email: plakamp@buffnews.com and lmichel@buffnews.com