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Rice's parents don't feel justice was served Say they are baffled by jury's decision to acquit doctor

The parents of 18-year-old Alexandria "Alix" Rice say they do not hate Dr. James G. Corasanti for killing their daughter, but they do not believe justice was served when a jury acquitted him Wednesday of all felony charges in her death.

"Unhappy, shocked, disbelief, disappointment. I don't think anyone saw it coming," said Tammy A. Schueler, Rice's mother. She and Richard J. Rice spoke Thursday afternoon during a news conference in the law offices of Terrence M. Connors, who is representing their daughter's estate in a civil lawsuit.

The parents, often teary-eyed, said they did not know if Corasanti's testimony helped sway the Erie County Court jury in his favor. But they did not fault the district attorney's three prosecutors for failing to get convictions on the felony charges in the July 8 collision that killed Rice on Heim Road as she skated home from work on her longboard.

When asked by reporters if Corasanti's testimony helped win the jury over, Richard Rice said, "You'd have to put yourself in the jurors' minds."

"I have no idea what influenced the jury. I'd like to know. I'm baffled," Schueler said.

The jury found Corasanti, 56, of Getzville, guilty only of misdemeanor driving while intoxicated. He could face up to a year in prison when he is sentenced in August.

Only two weeks before she was killed, Rice received her driver's license, but she did not own a car, her mother said.

"The day she was struck and killed, I had shown her a car my friend was selling and asked her what she thought of it. She thought it was OK and I said, 'How would you like it if it belonged to you?' Her response was 'I'd love it!' She had a big smile on her face," Richard Rice said.

Rice said Corasanti made a series of awful decisions that ended in the death of their only child, who had been on her way to the home she shared with him, after finishing a shift at a Hopkins Road pizzeria.

"It offends me to no end when someone calls this an accident. This was all about choices and he made a series of decisions, stupid, selfish, irresponsible and arrogant. But I'm not here to judge," the father said, adding that he prays for the doctor's family and the pain he has caused them.

"He's dragged both families through shards of broken glass," he said.

While the parents expressed a lack of faith in the criminal justice system, they did not blame the three prosecutors for failing to convince the jury to convict Corasanti on manslaughter and other serious charges that could have put him behind bars for up to 23 years.

Schueler said she had only briefly considered the possibility that Corasanti might get off.

"But that thought left rapidly with all the good evidence that was presented," she said, adding that prosecutors James F. Bargnesi, Christopher J. Belling and Kelley A. Omel did an "awesome" job.

The defense team -- Joel L. Daniels, Thomas H. Burton and Cheryl Meyers-Buth -- argued that it was a tragic accident caused, in part, because their client never saw Rice, dressed in dark clothing and crouched on her longboard.

On the question of whether they believed Corasanti's testimony, the mother and father both said they felt that the doctor's answers on the witness stand were coached.

"A lot of things went against what he said the night of the accident when his friends caught up to him," the father said. "He said 'I had some drinks, hit a person and there are ambulances down there. I've ruined my life and I've ruined my career and I'm not going to go to jail.' "

When asked if Corasanti purchased justice, the father said, "I never had enough money to buy justice. As far as the justice system goes, it is all we have. Some live outside those guidelines."

The father also expressed disappointment that the system prohibited recalling past legal actions against Corasanti.

"This was not his first rodeo," the father said, referring to a 1996 incident in which the doctor was charged with driving while intoxicated in Pendleton and pleaded to a reduced violation of driving while impaired.

Did the defense put Alix Rice's behavior on trial? "They tried to put everyone else on trial but him," Richard Rice said of the doctor.

Rice said he is proud of the fact that he is certified as a New York State professional school bus driver and works for the Sweet Home Central School District.

He went out of his way to mention that accomplishment in order to again make the point that people make decisions and must behave responsibly, especially on the road -- something he says Corasanti failed to do.

"A woman said to me, 'What if this happened to you?' Well, guess what, I like fine wine too, but I have never been arrested for DWI. One time when I was stopped, I submitted voluntarily to a chemical test and passed with flying colors."

Connors said the parents would not discuss the civil lawsuit that is pending. But when it was brought up during the news conference, Rice said he hoped it would continue to remind Corasanti of the life he took.

"Personally, I don't want a day to go by he doesn't think about what he has done," the father said.

Although there was little to be cheerful about at the news conference, the parents could not help but smile as they recalled the joy and energy of their daughter, sharing stories of how Alix, whether you wanted her friendship or not, was your friend, and how there was not a thing she wouldn't do to cheer others who were feeling down.

"She would sell her own possessions to buy people balloons. She did that when it was her assistant principal's birthday. She brought her balloons," Schueler said.

Also mentioned were the dreams that will now never be fulfilled.

"Alix and I were going to enroll her at ECC [Erie Community College] the following Friday for general studies and her plan was to transfer to a four-year school for fashion design," the mother said.

Instead, Rice said: "We've lost our child, that's all we had. There'll be no grandkids. She was our immortality. She was our future."

Weeping, Schueler said, "I never got the opportunity to see her come to fulfillment."

When asked by reporters what Alix would say about the turn of events that found Corasanti not guilty of the most severe charges, Rice pondered the question for a moment, then said:

"What would she say? Her voice has been eternally silenced. She never held grudges. She was not a hateful person. She wanted to see the best in everybody."

email: lmichel@buffnews.com