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Corasanti not drunk, neighbors testify But arresting officer smelled alcohol on him

Two of Dr. James G. Corasanti's neighbors accompanied him during his meandering, mile-long walk toward surrender.

Neither one testified he was drunk.

But Amherst Police Lt. Ted Dinoto, to whom Corasanti surrendered about an hour and a half after the July 8 hit-and-run that killed teenage skateboarder Alexandria "Alix" Rice, said Tuesday in Erie County Court that he could tell right away Corasanti had been drinking.

"When I first walked up and introduced myself, I could detect it," he said.

Corasanti's face was red, his eyes were bloodshot, and his breath had the odor of alcohol, Dinoto testified.

"Dr. Corasanti was intoxicated," said Dinoto, who said Corasanti's breath had a stale smell of alcohol when the two met at a Noco Express on Millersport Highway.

"It was an odor of someone drinking for a prolonged period of time," Dinoto testified at Corasanti's manslaughter trial.

Defense lawyer Joel L. Daniels has insisted Corasanti was not drunk when he struck Rice during his drive home from a country club. Corasanti had spent six hours socializing and playing golf at Transit Valley Country Club after a full day in which he saw 18 patients.

"He wasn't drunk. He wasn't impaired," Daniels said last week. "He was not affected by anything that he had to drink that night."

Prosecutors, however, say Corasanti had enough rum and Diet Pepsi mixed drinks, among other drinks, that his blood-alcohol content was over the legal limit five hours after the fatal incident.

Jurors have heard conflicting testimony during Corasanti's manslaughter trial.

"I didn't smell any alcohol on him," said David McLean, a Homeland Security supervisor who lives two houses from Corasanti.

McLean testified Tuesday that he saw Corasanti run from his home as McLean and his family walked back to their nearby home from a neighborhood gathering. He later went looking for Corasanti after one of his children alerted him of a problem at the Corasanti home.

By then, for Corasanti, the gravity of what had happened had set in. His wife had gone to the scene and returned to tell her husband she saw an ambulance. A security camera at the Corasanti house recorded him leaving the house and running down the street 28 minutes after the fatal hit-and-run.

When McLean caught up to Corasanti, he said he found the doctor in shock. As it was becoming clearer what had happened, McLean said he told him, "Jim, you have to do the right thing. You have to turn yourself in."

"I had some drinks," Corasanti said, according to McLean. "I've ruined my life. I've ruined my career." "I just want to deep-six it," Corasanti added, according to McLean. He said he interpreted that to mean Corasanti wanted to harm himself.

McLean also testified that Corasanti told him, "I'm not going to jail."

McLean said Corasanti did not appear intoxicated during the roughly 45 minutes he spent with him.

"He was walking normal as far as I could tell," McLean said, recalling how the doctor walked along Millersport Highway to the Noco station.

Joseph Piparo, another neighbor who made the trek with Corasanti, testified Monday that Corasanti maintained his balance throughout the entire walk. Corasanti was easy to understand and he responded to questions, Piparo said.

During Daniels' questioning of Dinoto, he asked if the doctor's state of shock and his 18-hour day -- first at work, then at the Transit Valley Country Club -- could explain his appearance.

Dinoto said it might.

"He understood what you said? You understood what he said, right?" Daniels asked.

"That's right," Dinoto said.

During the fourth day of Corasanti's trial, most of the testimony came from Dinoto.

Amherst police were alerted to the hit-and-run incident at 11:22 p.m. on July 8. Dinoto said he left Amherst Police Headquarters and reached the scene in less than three minutes, arriving when the ambulance did. He said he checked on Rice, who was being tended to by a police officer and other first responders. "She was either deceased or soon to be deceased," Dinoto said Tuesday.

Dinoto said he assigned police officers to mark the debris field, which included parts of the young woman's longboard, her shoe and a backpack. He ordered that stretch of Heim Road closed, assigned officers to take statements from witnesses, and others to escort the ambulance to the hospital. When Rice's cellphone was found, Dinoto said he scrolled through numbers to find identifying information, because nobody knew her name yet.

Dinoto said he found a number under "Dad ICE" -- short for in case of emergency. He called Richard Rice, the young woman's father.

Dinoto assigned some arriving officers to look for evidence at the scene and others to search the neighborhoods for a car with front-end damage.

After the officers left, Dinoto said he took time to look down Heim Road and reflect on the horror. "Jesus, help us find this guy," Dinoto recalled telling himself.

At 12:24 a.m., Amherst Police Officer Robert W. Stephens Jr. called Dinoto to let him know that attorney Thomas H. Burton would call him.

Police did not know it at the time, but Burton represented Corasanti.

As he patrolled, Stephens had noticed three women in front of a house on Mount Holyoke Court, so he pulled over to ask them if they had seen a damaged car drive by recently.

It turned out that Stephens had found Laureen Corasanti, the wife of Dr. Corasanti, and two of her neighbors in front of the Corasanti home. By this time, the neighbors' husbands -- McLean and Piparo -- were with Corasanti.

Mrs. Corasanti, who was speaking on her cellphone, handed Stephens the phone. The officer found himself talking to Burton. He asked Burton to call him on his cellphone. Stephens then gave Burton the phone number for Dinoto.

Dinoto also described Corasanti's surrender.

At 12:52 a.m., Burton called Dinoto. By this time, Corasanti was on his way to the Noco station to surrender. Dinoto was headed that way, too, and he arrived there at 12:54 a.m.

During his call with Burton, Dinoto agreed not to ask Corasanti any questions, and to wait for another of the doctor's lawyers to show up before taking Corasanti to Police Headquarters.

Dinoto pulled up and found Corasanti, two of his neighbors and a brother-in-law waiting for the police. Dinoto remained in the car for several more minutes talking with Burton.

After he got out of the police car, one of the neighbors pointed Corasanti out to Dinoto, and the lieutenant walked toward the doctor.

"You're Jim Corasanti?" Dinoto asked. The doctor nodded his head. "I'm Lt. Dinoto."

Dinoto said he found Corasanti with his hands in his pockets, his head down and his shoulders hunched. He led Corasanti to the back seat of the patrol car. He was not put in handcuffs, because he had not been placed under arrest.

After Corasanti got into Dinoto's police car, he asked, "Officer, how's the girl? Is she dead?"

When told she had died, Corasanti hung his head and let out a whimper or a sigh, Dinoto said. Dinoto said he had a "sad look on his face."

Today is an off day. Testimony resumes Thursday.