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Frantic scene at home cited by neighbor of Corasanti; Doctor called distraught after fatal hit-and-run

Grasping the horror of what he had done, a distraught Dr. James G. Corasanti told a neighbor that "something bad has happened."

"I've shamed myself. I've shamed my family," Joseph Piparo recalled Corasanti saying after the doctor fled from the July 8 hit-and-run that killed 18-year-old skateboarder Alexandria "Alix" Rice.

Piparo's testimony Monday in Erie County Court provided the first eyewitness glimpse of what Corasanti did during part of the 91 minutes between the fatal hit-and-run and his surrender to police.

Piparo said he was awakened at his Getzville home by Corasanti's wife, Laureen, who lives with James Corasanti across the street. Piparo described her as "frantic" when she came to his front door looking for help that night. He said she feared her husband might kill himself.

By then, Corasanti had put his 2010 BMW in the garage at his home. Laureen Corasanti, who had driven to the scene to try to find out what was happening, came back and told her husband she saw police cars and an ambulance. A prosecutor has said James Corasanti then ran from his Getzville home 28 minutes after Rice was struck at about 11:21 p.m.

Piparo referred to Corasanti as "a great guy" and said he did not hesitate to help that night. So Piparo drove his car looking for Corasanti, and he found his neighbor alone about a half-mile away, he said.

"Hey, Jim, what's going on?" Piparo said he asked his tearful neighbor.

"He wanted to be left alone. He didn't want to say a lot," Piparo recalled during questioning by prosecutor James F. Bargnesi.

But given Laureen Corasanti's warning, he said he did not want to leave him alone.

"I might have hit something," Corasanti said, according to Piparo. And then Corasanti added something else that alarmed Piparo. "I have to do what I have to do. I want to be left alone," he said, according to Piparo.

"I said, 'You're stuck with me,' " Piparo said.

At the time, Piparo did not know much of what happened on Heim Road, less than a mile from the block where he and Corasanti lived. He suggested to Corasanti that maybe he hit a dog, a cat or a deer.

But by then, Corasanti knew better. He knew "because of the ambulance" his wife had seen, Piparo said.

Still, Corasanti had neither called 911 about the incident nor alerted authorities about his involvement, Bargnesi said.

Another neighbor, David McLean, eventually found the two men, Piparo said. As McLean and Corasanti walked and talked, Piparo said, he followed behind and sent a text message to an acquaintance who is an Amherst police officer.

Piparo said he told the officer that he was with a neighbor who may have struck something with his car but was not sure.

Later, by phone, the officer told Piparo that a young woman had been struck and that "she wasn't in good shape."

Corasanti's brother-in-law showed up, and the four men walked together on Stahl Road, about a mile from where Corasanti lives.

The officer talking with Piparo by phone told Piparo to hand the phone to Corasanti.

Piparo said he did and told Corasanti that it was an Amherst police officer.

Precisely what the officer said to Corasanti was not revealed, but Corasanti, his neighbors and his brother-in-law then walked almost another mile to a Noco Express on Millersport Highway, where an Amherst police lieutenant took Corasanti into custody.

Questioned by defense lawyer Cheryl Meyers-Buth, Piparo said that Corasanti did not appear intoxicated and that the doctor was not drinking alcohol at the time. The doctor did not slur his words, nor did he stumble during the long walk to Noco, Piparo said.

Although Amherst police officials asked Piparo to speak with them in the days and weeks after the fatal hit-and-run, he declined to speak with them, Bargnesi said.

Corasanti, 56, faces manslaughter, leaving-the-scene and evidence-tampering charges in the trial. Judge Sheila A. DiTullio is presiding.

More precise information about the timing of the incident came out Monday.

Only one 911 call was made, by a passing motorist who stopped to help, and that call was placed at 11:21 p.m. Amherst police were alerted at 11:22 p.m.

Amherst Police Officer Robert W. Stephens Jr. testified that he drove around the area after the hit-and-run looking for a damaged car. He noticed three women in front of a house on Mount Holyoke Court, so he pulled over, rolled down a window and said, "Excuse me." None of the women responded, so he repeated himself, "Excuse me."

Still, none of them responded. So Stephens said he got out of the police vehicle and approached the three women, one of whom was on the phone, and asked them if they had seen a car with front-end damage.

It turned out that Stephens had found Laureen Corasanti and two of her neighbors in front of the Corasanti home.

"The lady speaking on the cellphone the whole time handed over the cellphone," Stephens said, and she said, "Here, talk."

On the other end was Thomas H. Burton, a lawyer for Dr. Corasanti. Stephens said he asked Burton to call him on the officer's cellphone. Stephens said he did not learn the name of the driver, where he was or where the car was, but he gave Burton the phone number for his lieutenant.

The officer remained outside the Corasanti home for several more hours, until after the doctor turned himself in and consented to a search of his car, which was in the garage.

email: plakamp@buffnews.com