A car most likely traveling between 46 and 52 mph fatally struck 18-year-old longboard skater Alexandria Rice last July, an Amherst accident reconstruction investigator said Tuesday in Erie County Court.
But Senior Investigator Robert C. McMahon of the town Police Department said he could not completely rule out that Dr. James G. Corasanti was driving as slow as 39.5 mph on Heim Road, which has a posted speed limit of 35 mph.
"It's scientifically possible," McMahon said of the slower speed, during cross-examination by Corasanti defense attorney Thomas H. Burton.
When asked by a prosecutor whether the slower speed was likely, McMahon said, "No, it's not."
Based on the damage to Corasanti's BMW, "Alix" Rice's fatal injuries and where her body landed, investigators believe she was in a crouched position when the car struck her, vaulting her forward.
If the car had been traveling 39 mph, Rice would have been lifted higher than 20 feet and the damage to the car would have been different, McMahon said.
Rice also would have been more visible to Corasanti leading up to the moment of impact, he said.
Defense lawyers for the 56-year-old Getzville doctor have contended that he did not see Rice and that he did not know he had struck a person.
Prosecutor Kelley A. Omel said that under the slower-speed scenario, Rice would have been more visible to Corasanti at the time of impact.
McMahon appeared as the prosecution's only witness on the 12th day of Corasanti's manslaughter and hit-and-run trial.
Burton spent much of Tuesday trying to weaken McMahon's testimony from Monday and Tuesday morning.
McMahon has testified that a motorist "could have or should have" spotted the teenage skateboarder from about 350 feet away -- longer than a football field -- along the stretch of Heim where she was fatally struck in the bike lane.
Jurors had previously seen a photograph that Omel displayed in court showing the view of Heim from the "point of possible perception."
"For the record, that shot was taken with the sun out on a clear day," Burton said.
The photo does not replicate the nighttime conditions that were present at the time of the fatal incident.
Instead, the photo shows a perspective from the middle of the road, not from the perspective of a driver, and without accounting for Rice's crouched position, Burton said.
McMahon agreed with Burton that Rice, by kneeling or crouching on her longboard, as opposed to standing straight, reduced her profile by half.
Also, the lights along Heim do not hang over the middle of the road -- or over the lane in which Corasanti was driving -- but hang over and cast more light on the other side of the road, Burton said.
"That's fair to say," said McMahon, who nonetheless called Heim "a well-lit road."
Rice's clothing also made it harder to see her, Burton said.
Rice wore black shorts and black shoes. She carried a black knapsack.
What is the worst color for a driver to see at night?
"I would say it would be black," McMahon replied to Burton.
But isn't the lime green top she wore one of the best colors to wear? Omel asked.
"It would be a much better color," McMahon said.
But by crouching while riding her longboard -- below hood level according to one witness -- Rice diminished the bright effect of her green top, Burton suggested.
Seconds before he struck the young woman, Corasanti had just driven past a car in the other lane waiting to make a left turn. Burton said the headlights of the car facing Corasanti beamed at him.
Mark Rowland, who previously testified in the trial, said after he drove past Rice on Heim, he stopped to make a left turn from Heim onto Schimwood Court. That's when he saw Corasanti's car approach from the opposite direction.
If Rowland's headlights caused a "visual disturbance" for Corasanti at Heim and Schimwood, Corasanti still had 160 feet in which to see Rice, McMahon said.
McMahon agreed with the defense lawyer that no one saw the BMW strike Rice.
Burton asked McMahon why, out of the hundreds of photographs taken of Corasanti's car, none was from the perspective of someone driving the car.
"There is not a single, solitary photograph of somebody sitting in that car [the size] as my man here, Dr. Corasanti," Burton said.
Access to the interior of car was limited, McMahon said, because it was treated like a crime scene.