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Corasanti's attorneys argue for dismissal; DA calls defense's request an attempt to blame victim

Lawyers for a Getzville doctor asked a judge Wednesday to dismiss manslaughter and other charges filed against him after a fatal hit-and-run crash that killed a teenager last summer in Amherst.

Dr. James G. Corasanti's actions were not criminally reckless and there isn't evidence to prove second-degree manslaughter, defense lawyer Joel L. Daniels said.

Rather, 18-year-old Alexandria Rice, with marijuana in her system, chose to ride her longboard at night, crouching down low, without wearing reflective clothing, Daniels said.

Rice's toxicology report showed the amount of marijuana in her system "was not an insignificant amount," Daniels added.

Daniels and Cheryl Meyers-Buth, another defense lawyer, also sought to have Rice's mental health records reviewed by Erie County Court Judge Sheila A. DiTullio. After reviewing the records, the judge would decide if any should be turned over to the defense.

Kelley A. Omel, chief of the District Attorney's Vehicular Crimes Bureau, called the request "offensive."

"It's a blatant effort to blame the victim," Omel said.

"This is a case, Your Honor, where this defendant, while intoxicated, while sending and receiving text messages, and while speeding, drove over a fog line and struck and killed Alexandria Rice," Omel added.

But the doctor's lawyers called Rice's behavior "a relevant area of inquiry."

Rice referred to herself in social media sites as "a cutter" who suffered from depression, Daniels said. She also wrote she wanted to die "fast and dangerous doing something exciting."

"We are very simply following the facts," Daniels said. "We're not here to blame the victim."

DiTullio reserved decision on the lawyers' request she dismiss the charges. She will also rule later on Rice's mental health records. Corasanti's lawyers asked for other documents, as well, including any statements made by as many as nine people who saw Corasanti at the Transit Valley Country Club hours before the July 8 crash.

Daniels said the people reportedly told authorities Corasanti did not appear intoxicated.

Corasanti, 56, faces charges of second-degree vehicular manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter, leaving the scene of an incident resulting in death, and two counts of tampering with physical evidence. He faces up to 23 years in prison if convicted of all of the charges.

Rice was on a longboard -- more like a snowboard than a normal skateboard -- when Corasanti's 2010 BMW struck her about 11:20 p.m. on Heim Road.

Police interviewed a motorist who was traveling in the opposite direction of Corasanti moments before the crash.

That motorist told police Rice crossed the road in front of him in a "crouched position on the skateboard just above the height level of his vehicle's hood," according to a court filing that quotes an accident reconstruction report.

Gouges on the road from the skateboard, which police point to as the point of impact, are about one foot to the right of the fog line, Daniels said.

"That is not a violation of the vehicle and traffic law," Daniels said of crossing the fog line.

The Amherst Police Department investigator who wrote the accident reconstruction report concluded the accident was caused "due to excessive vehicle speed, failure to obey a traffic control device [the white painted fog line] and excessive alcohol consumption," court records show.

Omel said Corasanti's car was traveling between 46 and 52 mph on Heim Road, a road with a posted speed limit of 35 mph.

The reconstruction report, however, does not explain how speeding, if true, caused the crash, the defense lawyers said.

"There is no specific claim made that the speed of Dr. Corasanti's vehicle caused him to lose control of his vehicle or prevented him from taking evasive action," according to his lawyers' pretrial motion.

As for vehicular manslaughter, Corasanti's lawyers asked DiTullio to dismiss it because they said the statute improperly forces him to prove intoxication did not cause the victim's death.

"It improperly shifts the burden of proof to the defendant," Daniels said, raising a constitutional issue.

During the hearing, Daniels challenged the leaving the scene charge as "unconstitutionally vague."

The statute is intended to punish drivers seeking to evade consequences before anybody identifies who they are and what they did, Daniels said.

In this case, Corasanti made arrangements to meet with Amherst police within the first hour after the accident, he said.

"How much time do you have to report? The statute doesn't give you an answer," Daniels said.

Omel said the law has been affirmed by a higher court, which ruled the language is not vague.

Besides, another motorist -- not Corasanti -- alerted 911 to the crash, she said.

An Erie County grand jury in September also lodged evidence-tampering charges against Corasanti for allegedly removing the victim's blood and body tissue from his car and deleting text messages from his mobile telephone.

As for the evidence-tampering charges, Omel said police found Corasanti's fresh handprint on the hood of the car within reach of wipe marks. Police also recovered a bloody rag in the doctor's garbage, she said in court.

The defense lawyers deny the doctor wiped the car down.

What's more, Daniels has said DNA tests were unable to match with either Corasanti or Rice to the material found on the towel. It could not be determined whether the substance found on the towel was human blood, Daniels said. Omel did not address that contention during the hearing.

Omel said Rice's body tissue was found several feet from Corasanti's car inside the garage, on a step leading from the garage into the house.

The prosecutor also said text messages were "selectively deleted" from his mobile telephone. The police, however, did not retrieve Corasanti's mobile phone until Aug. 11, a month after the accident, Daniels said.

Police did not tell him to save any text messages, he said. Corasanti used his mobile phone until police took it, Daniels said. How was he supposed to know which messages the prosecutors would want as evidence, Daniels asked.

email: plakamp@buffnews.com