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Witness at Corasanti wrongful-death trial says hit-run victim had pulse when found on lawn

Alexandria “Alix” Rice still had a pulse when she was found lying on a front lawn on Heim Road in Amherst after she was hit by Dr. James G. Corasanti’s BMW 3½ years ago, a woman testified Monday at Corasanti’s civil trial in the fatal hit-and-run.

Kathy Honsberger told a State Supreme Court jury that she was with her husband and daughter as they were driving home sometime after 11 p.m. July 8, 2011, when her daughter noticed a person lying on the lawn.

She said they stopped and went to check on the young woman, later identified as Rice.

Honsberger, a preschool teacher certified in first aid, said the woman had a shocked, scared look on her face and was bleeding from the nose.

She said she checked the woman’s neck and carotid artery for a pulse and detected one. She said she told that to a couple who had stopped just before her to check on the woman and were on the phone with 911.

While she said she told Amherst police about the pulse later, Honsberger acknowledged that she had also told them that the woman was not moving and that there were no signs of life in her expression.

She also told police that she and her husband had tried to comfort the woman, telling her she would be OK, although she said she didn’t think the woman heard them.

Hornsberger also acknowledged that she had not told police about the shock and fear she saw on the woman’s face.

“Her face was frozen in fear,” she testified, adding that is why she and her husband tried to comfort her.

The testimony followed opening statements by the attorneys for Corasanti and for Rice’s parents, Richard J. Rice and Tammy A. Schueler, who filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Getzville physician.

The parents contend that their 18-year-old daughter did not die immediately but experienced terror before she was hit and pain and suffering after she was struck as she rode her longboard home that night along Heim Road from her job at a pizzeria.

They are seeking monetary damages for her terror, pain and suffering and for their economic loss as a result of her death. They also are seeking punitive damages to punish Corasanti for his actions that night and discourage others from similar conduct.

Corasanti, 59, contends that Alix Rice died instantly.

In his opening statement, Terrence M. Connors, the parents’ chief attorney, told the six-member jury that Corasanti was driving drunk when he struck Rice, then continued on home without stopping.

He said Corasanti also had been texting and traveling partly over the fog line and into the bike lane at more than 50 mph in a 35 mph speed zone before his BMW hit her.

At least one of the texts was an unsuccessful attempt by the married doctor to reach his then-mistress, Connors said, while another, at 11:19 p.m., was sent to his medical office manager. He said Corasanti later deleted the texts.

The force of the collision sent Rice flying onto the hood of Corasanti’s car, just 3 or 4 feet away from the driver, before launching her more than 150 feet from the point of impact onto the lawn, the attorney said.

However, Corasanti, who was returning home from a couples golf outing at Transit Valley Country Club, indicated that he didn’t see Rice and didn’t realize he had hit someone, so he didn’t stop, Connors told the jury.

He said Corasanti and his wife checked his car when he got home and found damage, blood and tissue on the vehicle’s exterior. His wife then drove to the scene and learned that someone had been hit. Corasanti contacted a friend who was an attorney and later surrendered to Amherst police.

The impact snapped the bones in both of Rice’s lower legs in half, opened a gash on one leg, broke some ribs, lacerated her cerebellum and caused neck injuries, resulting in her death, according to Connors.

But before she was declared dead at 12:04 a.m. July 9, 2011, at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital in Amherst, she suffered excruciating pain, he said.

“It was a horrible way to die for anyone, but especially for someone so young,” he told the jury.

Richard T. Sullivan, Corasanti’s lead attorney, told the jury in his opening statement that Rice died instantly. He said the Erie County medical examiner testified at Corasanti’s criminal trial in May 2012 that her death was instantaneous.

Corasanti was acquitted by an Erie County Court jury of manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident and evidence tampering at that trial, but he was convicted of misdemeanor drunken driving and sentenced to the maximum one-year jail term.

Sullivan also told the jury that Rice’s conduct that night contributed to her death.

He said two other drivers who saw her on her longboard before the collision indicated that they narrowly avoided hitting her when she rode her board across the road in front of them.

Sullivan said one of those drivers saw Rice kneeling on the board and told police he wondered whether Corasanti, who drove past him in the opposite direction, would be able to see her.

“Oh, crap, he hit her,” that driver said when he heard the collision, according to Sullivan.

That driver indicated that Corasanti was speeding and driving partly over the fog line into the bike lane before hitting Rice, Connors said.

That driver then heard “this almighty bang, this ungodly sound,” the attorney said.

“He heard this 5,000-pound car hit her 5-foot, 4-inch frame, bringing her life to an end,” Connors said.

Sullivan said he will challenge the assumption behind the parents’ contention that their daughter would have cared for and supported them in their old age.

He told the jury that the parents had not lived together for 18 years and that Richard Rice had not paid any child support until after his daughter’s death.

Connors, however, said Rice had helped her mother with kidney problems and had assisted her father with his karaoke business when he suffered back problems.

The trial before Justice John L. Michalski is expected to last three more weeks.