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DOCTOR FACES JURY ON TEEN LEFT TO DIE; As Corasanti trial begins, a dozen local citizens must weigh explanation for a fatal hit-and-run

Their lives collided late at night last summer on a dark road - Dr. James G. Corasanti driving his BMW on his way home from a country club outing and teenager Alexandria "Alix" Rice skateboarding from her job at a pizzeria.

The impact threw the young woman 60 feet, fracturing her neck and causing many other injuries.

He drove away. She was left unattended.

Someone else found her, and she died 42 minutes later in Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital.

Corasanti, 56, drove to his Getzville home less than a mile away, parked his car and eventually left. After a police officer showed up at the house, Corasanti turned himself in to Amherst police at a Millersport Highway service station.

As he surrendered 91 minutes after the fatal hit-and-run incident, according to police, Corasanti asked, "How's the girl? Is she dead?"

The case has prompted questions and outrage among people who ask how a doctor could leave an injured 18-year-old to die.

As Corasanti's manslaughter trial begins today, a jury of eight men and four women will begin to sort through what happened July 8 on Heim Road in Amherst, where Rice was fatally struck at about 11:23 p.m.

The jurors were chosen from among 271 candidates during a four-day selection process. They work mainly in blue-collar and service jobs. Half of them live in Buffalo; most of the rest come from the Southtowns.

An engineer and an instructional coach are the only ones holding professional-type jobs. None of the doctors in the jury pool was picked. No one on the jury lives in Amherst. None of them is a member of a country club, although one of the jurors once was.

Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio told the jurors they have a monthlong trial ahead of them. That's why so many small-business owners, sales representatives and other family breadwinners -- fearing economic hardship -- asked to be excused from the Corasanti jury.

Half of the jurors have teenage children, and the panel includes a woman who was injured in a hit-and-run incident.

>'Perfect jury' elusive

The makeup of the jury initially seems to be a disadvantage for Corasanti, but prosecutors have their own concerns: Two jurors have past arrests for drunken driving. And there are no skateboarders on the jury.

"I don't think either side ended up with their perfect jury," said Sunil Bakshi, a defense attorney who is not involved in the case. "You don't get your perfect jury. There's always give-and-take."

Where jurors live, their age, the size of their families and if they went to college are only parts of what lawyers look at when selecting a juror or keeping one off. Lawyers try to gauge their life experiences.

"You talk to them. You look in their eyes. You try to read their body language and get a sense if they have compassion," Bakshi said. "You see if they have a law-and-order orientation. You can tell a lot by how a person sits, or crosses their legs or makes eye contact."

Among the jurors are a school bus monitor, welder, carpenter, claims representative for a federal agency, a group home supervisor and a truck parts salesman.

>Vow to 'look at facts'

A female temp worker picked as a juror was a hit-and-run victim two years ago while riding a bike. She promised to "look at facts before I judge."

A grand jury indicted Corasanti on charges of second-degree vehicular manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter, leaving the scene of an incident without reporting resulting in death, and tampering with physical evidence. He could face up to 23 years in prison if convicted of all of the charges, but that assumes all of the sentences would be served consecutively.

Today's opening statements are when prosecutors will preview their case. Key parts have already been brought up during pretrial hearings:

Corasanti's blood-alcohol content was found to be 0.10 percent, five hours after the crash, exceeding the threshold for drunken driving, prosecutors have said.

He was texting while traveling between 46 and 52 mph on a road with a posted speed limit of 35 mph, they said.

Prosecutors accused him of removing blood and body tissue from his BMW and deleting text messages from his mobile phone.

There are parts of the prosecution case that have not yet been revealed.

James F. Bargnesi, head of the District Attorney's Homicide Bureau, has said there was physical evidence that led police to home in on Corasanti as a suspect within minutes of the incident.

But prosecutors have not yet detailed how police initially linked Corasanti to the hit-and-run.

A grand jury indicted Corasanti on a charge of tampering with evidence for allegedly removing the victim's blood and body tissue from his car at his home. But beyond that, prosecutors have not made public where Corasanti was, what he was doing and whom he talked with during the hour and a half between the incident and the surrender.

>'A lot to explain away'

For defense attorneys Cheryl Meyers-Buth, Thomas H. Burton and Joel L. Daniels, the opening statement, if they choose to make one, is a first chance to downplay Corasanti's culpability.

Rice was on a longboard -- larger than a normal skateboard -- on her way home when the incident occurred.

"There's no question the doctor's vehicle struck this young lady," Daniels said this week during jury selection. The issue, he said, is whether he knew. Daniels has said Corasanti would have stopped if he knew he had hit someone.

Corasanti is not required to put on a defense. His lawyers did not submit a witness list.

The defense lawyers are likely to wait until they see the quality of the prosecution's case before deciding how to proceed.

"There's a lot to explain away," Bakshi said. "It's not just hitting and leaving. It's the fact maybe this guy could have done more by staying, because he's a doctor."

DiTullio has not announced her ruling on a defense request for Rice's mental health records. The defense lawyers in February asked the judge to review those records and then decide if any can be turned over to the defense for possible use in the trial.

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

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

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



JURY DEMOGRAPHIC / 12 jurors and four alternates

8 Jurors with teenage children

5 Jurors with no children

2 Jurors previously arrested for DWI

8 Jurors live in suburbs, none from Amherst

1 Juror injured in hit-run incident