Share this article

print logo

More charges filed in fatal hit-run; Doctor accused of removing blood, body tissue from car

The Getzville doctor indicted Thursday on manslaughter charges was texting while driving drunk and speeding when he fatally struck a teenager with his 2010 BMW last July in Amherst, prosecutors say.

But the criminal charges don't end there.

An Erie County grand jury also lodged evidence-tampering charges against Dr. James G. Corasanti, 56, for allegedly removing the victim's blood and body tissue from his BMW and deleting text messages from his mobile telephone.

Alexandria "Alix" Rice, 18, was on a longboard -- more like a snowboard than a normal skateboard -- on her way home from her job at a Hopkins Road pizzeria when she was killed in the hit-and-run collision at about 11:20 p.m. on July 8 on Heim Road.

"The revelations are absolutely stunning," said Christopher J. O'Brien, the attorney representing Rice's estate. "He was speeding. He was in the bike lane. He was texting. He was drinking and driving. Short of driving with his eyes closed, I don't know what more he could have done in terms of being reckless."

After the collision, Corasanti refused to voluntarily offer a blood sample to determine his blood-alcohol level, but law enforcement officials got a court order within five hours to have one taken.

His blood-alcohol content was found to be 0.10 percent, exceeding the threshold for drunken driving, said Kelley A. Omel, chief of the Erie County District Attorney's Vehicular Crimes Unit, at his arraignment.

Given the delay in getting the blood sample, prosecutors estimate that Corasanti had between a 0.14 percent and 0.21 percent reading at the time he was driving, Omel said.

An Erie County grand jury indicted Corasanti on second-degree vehicular manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter, leaving the scene of an incident without reporting resulting in death and two counts of tampering with physical evidence.

Defense attorney Joel L. Daniels entered a not guilty plea on Corasanti's behalf before Erie County Court Judge Sheila A. DiTullio.

"This was an accident," Daniels said in court. "It happened at night. It was dark. This young lady was on a skateboard.

"If he knew he hit someone, he would have stopped," Daniels said of his client.

At the arraignment, Daniels extended condolences to Rice's family, who were in the courtroom, on behalf of Corasanti and the lawyers representing him.

O'Brien said Rice's family is stunned and upset at the additional information they learned.

Rice's father left the courthouse visibly upset.

During the court proceeding, Corasanti's lawyers sought to portray their client as cooperative.

Corasanti voluntarily provided a DNA sample, Daniels said.

Whatever prosecutors asked for, "we were there," he said.

Following the arraignment, attorney Thomas H. Burton, who also is on Corasanti's legal team, said Corasanti allowed Amherst police quick access to his BMW following the incident.

"We did this so Amherst police wouldn't need a warrant," Burton said.

Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III, however, noted the grand jury's evidence-tampering charges. Corasanti allegedly removed the victim's blood and body tissue from his BMW and allegedly deleted text messages from his mobile telephone.

So Sedita questioned the extent of Corasanti's cooperation.

"It appears the indictment stands in contrast to counsel's remarks," Sedita said.

Sedita previously had said that Corasanti's wife, Laureen, had not been forthcoming with investigators, but she was not mentioned during the court proceeding or Sedita's press briefing that followed.

Authorities previously said that 91 minutes had elapsed between the time the accident occurred and when Corasanti turned himself over to police.

Corasanti faces up to 23 years in prison if convicted of the felony charges, Sedita said.

Prosecutors asked the judge to revoke Corasanti's $100,000 cash bail and to immediately put him in jail while awaiting trial.

Corasanti already demonstrated he's a flight risk by leaving the scene of the collision, Omel told the judge.

"He didn't run away," Daniels countered, but "turned himself in that night."

DiTullio raised Corasanti's bail to $250,000, but she also let him use property to secure the bail, and gave him until 5 p.m. Friday to post it.

The case, Daniels said, hinges in some respects on forensic evidence.

Allowing Corasanti to use property to secure his bail -- rather than only cash -- will free up money that the doctor can spend to hire experts on his behalf, Daniels said.

"They don't come cheap," he said of the experts.

"These are pretty serious crimes," Sedita said. "We feel the proof in our case is pretty good. It's compelling."

Sedita added, "We believe the evidence will show at the time defendant struck Alexandria Rice, he was texting."

However, Sedita said, "there's no such thing as a lock" when it comes to winning trials.

To convict the doctor of vehicular manslaughter, prosecutors would need to prove that drunken driving directly caused the death of the victim.

To convict him of second-degree manslaughter, which carries a possible 15-year prison term, prosecutors would need to show criminal recklessness caused her death, Sedita said.

Leaving the scene of a fatal incident carries a maximum seven-year prison sentence, the same as second-degree vehicular manslaughter.

Corasanti has lived in the Buffalo area for 35 years, and has practiced medicine for more than 20 years. Since his arrest, he hasn't driven but does catch a train to Utica, where he's been doing consulting work for a company, Daniels said.

Daniels mentioned that Corasanti is attempting to win permission to be able to drive, on a limited basis, for work purposes.

"James Corasanti -- Dr. Corasanti -- is a healer," Daniels said in court. "He saves lives. That's what he does."