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Deliberations due next week as Corasanti defense rests

The defense in the Dr. James G. Corasanti hit-and-run and manslaughter trial rested Tuesday, after its final witness hammered away at the police reconstruction report.

Jurors will hear closing arguments and begin deliberations Tuesday -- after the Memorial Day weekend -- on five counts that could send the 56-year-old Getzville physician to prison for up to 23 years.

Exchanges turned especially testy during a prosecutor's cross-examination of the defense's expert witness in Erie County Court.

David Liske, a principal associate at Liske Forensic Professionals of Fonthill, Ont., said Amherst police were "absolutely wrong" in how they reconstructed the fatal incident.

Liske testified that Corasanti was traveling 39.9 mph on Heim Road in Amherst when his BMW struck longboard skater Alexandria "Alix" Rice, 18, on the night of July 8.

That's slower than what Amherst police calculated.

Last week, an accident reconstruction investigator for the town police said Corasanti's car was most likely traveling between 46 and 52 mph when Rice was fatally struck.

The road has a posted speed limit of 35 mph.

How could Amherst police calculate a higher speed for Corasanti's car?

"They have to rely on evidence that doesn't exist," Liske responded to defense lawyer Thomas H. Burton, on the 16th and final day of testimony.

Liske said the police calculation of Corasanti's speed did not take into account how far she was carried by his car at impact. Police measured only how far she was knocked in the air and how far she skidded.

"It increases the speed if you ignore the carry component," Liske said of the speed projection by the police.

Senior Investigator Robert C. McMahon of the Amherst Police Department said last week he could not completely rule out that Corasanti was driving as slow as 39.5 mph. But when asked by a prosecutor whether the slower speed was likely, McMahon said, "No, it's not."

McMahon said he calculated Rice's speed based on information given to him by Mark Rowland of Getzville, the motorist who previously testified that Rice had crossed Heim in front of his car in a crouched position as she skated toward the bike lane. Liske also testified that most of Rice's nearly 4-foot longboard was in Corasanti's travel lane when she was struck. He noted the damage to the nose of the longboard, where its tip, front wheels and axle broke off.

"She was heading diagonally in a northwest direction" across Heim at about 4.8 mph, he said.

Police have said a gouge in the shoulder on Heim -- indicating the point of impact -- is "just over 12 inches" from the driving lane.

"The tip of the board was at or near where the gouge is, but the remainder of the board was in the westbound lane," Liske said.

Liske said Rice was in a crouched position, no higher than 24 inches above the road, in the driving lane.

Where Rice was located when struck -- in the travel lane or the bike lane -- and how visible she was to Corasanti figures to play a role in jurors deciding whether Corasanti was reckless in the fatal incident.

Liske said he has conducted more than 2,000 accident investigations and reconstructions. He previously worked at Sierra Research Technologies in Buffalo as a senior engineer for system safety and human factors engineering.

Throughout cross-examination, prosecutor Christopher J. Belling repeatedly brought up Liske's $150-an-hour fee, suggesting a financial motive to his contradicting the police reconstruction report.

"If you had agreed with Amherst police, you'd have no pay," Belling said. "At that point, the meter stops."

Liske said he reviewed the police reconstruction report.

"I said to Tom, 'They're absolutely wrong,' and the meter kept running," Liske replied, referring to Burton.

Burton, who reviewed Liske's fee in front of jurors when he first questioned Liske on Monday, objected to Belling bringing up the fee nine times during cross-examination.

At one point, Judge Sheila A. DiTullio halted questioning during cross-examination and sent jurors out for a break so she could de-escalate the tension between Belling and Liske.

"Let's just even out here a little bit," DiTullio said, noting the zealous advocacy from both sides during the nearly monthlong trial as she tried to keep the exchanges from deteriorating into hostility.

"We don't want this behavior in front of the jury," the judge said.

The sniping, however, continued.

Liske said he works for insurance companies and lawyers, reviewing files and evidence after traffic accidents but rarely going to scenes when police and emergency workers are dealing with an accident.

"We're not first responders," he said.

"So it could be called second-guessers?" Belling replied.

Amherst investigators believe that Rice was crouched when the car struck her, vaulting her forward at least 40 feet in the air, over a curb. Then she skidded over a concrete sidewalk and concrete apron that connects a driveway to Heim. She landed 167 feet from the point of impact -- more than half the length of a football field, investigators have said.

McMahon described Rice's trajectory as straight. Liske said his reconstruction accounted for her landing after the incident about 20 feet off of the travel lane.

If Rice was struck by Corasanti at the slower speed, how high would she have been knocked in the air? Belling asked Liske.

She would have been thrown higher than 18 feet, taking 1 second to reach the peak height and another second to fall to the ground, Liske replied.

Corasanti has said that he did not see Rice and that he did not know he had struck a person at the time of impact.

If she was lifted higher than 18 feet, how could Corasanti have not seen her? Belling asked.

She may not have been visible to Corasanti because she was lifted up that high on the side of the car -- not the front, Liske said.

After Liske testified, the defense rested and asked that the judge dismiss the manslaughter, hit-and-run and evidence-tampering charges against Corasanti. DiTullio denied the request and said there are issues of fact for the jury to decide.

Prosecutors then put on a single rebuttal witness, Robert J. Osiewicz, chief toxicologist for the Erie County Medical Examiner's Office.

Monday, Jimmie Valentine, a toxicology consultant for the defense who is a retired University of Arkansas College of Medicine professor, testified that he "cannot have any confidence" in the blood test showing that Corasanti registered a 0.10 percent blood-alcohol content, 0.02 above the legal limit, five hours after the fatal incident.

Belling said that Valentine did not understand Erie County's procedures and that jurors should hear Osiewicz explain them.

Osiewicz, who previously testified, returned to the stand and disagreed with Valentine's conclusions. Osiewicz described the lab's procedures for making sure the blood-testing equipment exceeds standards.

email: plakamp@buffnews.com