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Justice blindsided by outcome

Dr. James Corasanti got his life back Wednesday night. I wish I could say the same for Alix Rice.

In a verdict that gave comfort to death-and-damage-causing drunk drivers everywhere, a jury found the Getzville physician not guilty of vehicular manslaughter and other felony counts in the crash that killed the teenager last July. He was convicted only of misdemeanor DWI.

Astonishingly, Corasanti was cleared even of the charge that seemed like a slam-dunk -- leaving the scene of an accident, resulting in death. Somehow in the jury room, that figurative ball hit the back iron and bounced off.

This was, of course, no game. This was a young girl's life. A life that, sadly, found little compensation in criminal court.

"We were disappointed and, frankly, shocked at the verdict," said District Attorney Frank Sedita.

The boyfriend of Rice's mother was less diplomatic. Hearing the succession of "not guiltys" read by the jury foreman, he dropped an F-bomb and walked out of court in disgust. It was as succinct an indictment of the inconsistencies of our justice system as I can imagine.

The prominent physician who, in the hours after the crash, lamented to neighbors that he had messed up his life and his career, now gets both back. The misdemeanor DWI conviction will likely not cost him a day of freedom. With no felony conviction, Corasanti will keep his medical license.

If there is any justice -- and for the community's sake -- he should at least have his drinking privileges revoked at every local country club. We cannot afford to have Corasanti turned loose at another Martini Golf Night.

The verdict suggested that Justice is not just blind, but -- like Alix Rice -- was left bleeding and dying by the side of the road.

The case played out like a Shakespearean tragedy: Prominent-but-flawed physician, after drinking at a country club, hits and kills skateboarding teen who is heading home from her job at a pizza place on a July night. It set up as a clash of extremes of age, income, status in society and -- finally and fatally -- modes of transportation. Him, in an options-laden BMW 5-series; her on a self-propelled longboard.

But the ultimate tragedy, to my mind, is the way this morality play ended: with no justice done. Sedita said he has never, in 24 years as a prosecutor, been as "astonished" by a verdict.

"We tried the case as best we could," said the district attorney. "I am sorry, on behalf of Alix, that she did not get justice."

Here is what makes this verdict so hard to stomach. To my mind, Corasanti acted in the hours after the crash precisely like a guy who knew he had done something awful, who knew he was drunk when he did it, and who was doing everything in his power to cover his back.

With the help of the best defense team money could buy, he succeeded.

The layered list of Corasanti's post-crash actions that pointed to guilt piled higher than the buckled hood of his BMW.

He did not stop, even though the impact threw the girl nearly 200 feet, buckled the hood of his car and ripped off the side view mirror. The "ungodly" -- to quote a witness -- sound brought neighbors from hundreds of feet away out from behind closed doors.

Granted, the BMW is designed to absorb impact. But the notion that he did not know he struck something significant defies belief. I don't care how well the thing is engineered -- it's a car, not a tank.

He drove home and parked the car in the garage and shut the door. Instead of driving back himself, he sent -- Corasanti testified she went on her own, his nose somehow not growing even an inch -- his wife to check the scene.

Neither he nor his wife ever called 911. Instead both -- separately -- calling the family's lawyer, not the sort of move you make if you know you, say, hit a deer.

In the classic savvy drunk-driver maneuver -- Corasanti's late-'90s DWI conviction was not admissible in court -- he refused a Breathalyzer test two-and-a-half hours after the crash. Only a court order forced him to submit to a blood draw five hours after he blasted Rice off of the road. Even then, he still was legally drunk.

Prosecutor Jim Bargnesi, in Tuesday's closing argument, laid out Corasanti -- who, as a gastrointestinal expert, understands the speed with which the body absorbs alcohol -- for refusing the Breathalyzer test.

"The defendant said 'No, thanks' to the best way in the world of proving he was sober," noted Bargnesi. "A sober person being arrested for being drunk and killing a kid with his car would have been begging police for a Breathalyzer test. Instead, he did the opposite."

Corasanti's wife, barely an hour after Rice was hit -- and with the blood- and tissue-splattered car in the garage -- played dumb with an Amherst cop who rolled up.

To me, the post-crash actions all screamed a single word: Guilty.

I sat Tuesday through nearly four hours of closing arguments. The defense, in their portion of it, made one bigger-picture argument that I found digestable: That Corasanti did not see the dark-clothed girl crouched on her board.

Still, his every action in the hours after showed he knew he hit not just something, but someone. And instead of stopping to help, and taking the consequences of being drunk at the scene, he ran and hid. As prosecutor Bargnesi put it, "he only cared about himself his life and his career."

Well, Corasanti got all of that back Wednesday night. His life. His career. But not, I bet, his conscience.

If there is any justice, it will not let him rest.