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BUFFALO, NY --The trial of Dr. James Corasanti is getting a late start after one of the jurors had car trouble on the way to the courthouse Thursday morning. Testimony was set to resume at 10 a.m., but will now start closer to 11 a.m.
Six prosecution witnesses testified Monday, day three of testimony in the trial of Dr. James Corasanti.
Dr. Corasanti is accused of hitting Alexandria Rice with his car, and then leaving her to die on Heim Road in Amherst last July.
Dr. Corasanti is charged with vehicular manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter, leaving a deadly accident scene and tampering with physical evidence. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Two of the witnesses who testified Monday were women who tried to render assistance to Alix Rice after the accident. The first woman, Kathy Honsberger, came upon the scene while riding with her family. The second woman, Ginny Hoffman, was a neighbor who was in her family room and heard a "thump" the likes of which she had never heard before or since.
Honsberger testified that she saw the broken skateboard and shoes of the victim and checked Rice for a pulse. However, upon cross examination, Honsberger described the area as being "very dark". She also had trouble recalling the color of the girl's hair despite saying she was "totally focused" on the victim.
When defense counsel Thomas Burton displayed the broken skateboard and asked if it looked familiar, she said "no, not really."
Burton also got Honsberger to make clear she did not actually witness the accident.
Hoffman said she could not see what was going on initially, but left her home to help after claiming she could see a woman who was on a cell phone, standing over "something" and saying "we need an ambulance".
Hoffman described the victim on the ground. "She was laying on her left side, her eyes were open. Her legs looked broken, her face was bloody, and her neck didn't look right".
Prosecutors have stated previously that the victim's neck was broken so severely that only her skin kept her head attached to her body.
Another witness, Jacqueline Beaudry, lives next door to the home in front of which the victim ended up.
She testified that she had just turned off her tv on the night in question and was preparing to retire for the evening when she heard a "horrific noise, a vibrating metallic sound, which sounded like an aluminum ladder being dropped." She went on to explain that she in fact thought someone was stealing her aluminum ladder which she'd used earlier in the day.
She said that when she looked out her window and saw what appeared to be "something laying in the yard" next door, she scrambled from the house in her pajamas and bare feet, yelling to her sleeping husband "wake up, something's wrong!" Mrs. Beaudry was the second witness of the day who claimed to have "heard" an awful noise but who, under questioning from prosecutors, made note that they heard no tire squeal or brake noises beforehand.
Beaudry, who is a crossing guard at a nearby school, claims to have walked that section of Heim road "thousands of times" and (under questioning from prosecutors) claims it is well lit at night.
In his opening statements, Corasanti's defense attorney Joel Daniels said that Heim Road is not well lit.
Amherst police officer Gregg Huller, who was first to arrive on scene, testified that he had "no trouble" seeing things at the scene, although upon cross examination defense counsel Thomas Burton made a point that Huller and others probably would not recall it being that dark with all the stopped cars, emergency vehicles with flashing lights, and porch lights which had come on by then.
Officer Huller described first moving to assist the victim whose pupils "did not" dilate when he shined his flashlight in her eyes. "She appeared to have broken legs and there was blood on the ground beneath her torso," Huller testified.
Apparently realizing the graveness of the victim's condition, Officer Huller testified that he got on his police radio and said "tell fire to hurry it up".
In what might have been the most compelling point of Monday morning's testimony, Burton had Huller read from his initial police report which says the sole witnesses to the suspect vehicle, Mark Rowland and his wife Jamie LaPiere, were "sure" it was a gray or silver Honda or Hyundai (Corasanti was driving a dark blue BMW).
Officer Huller said while on the stand he had omitted the word "not" from that part of his initial report, as in the witnesses were "not sure" of the color and make. Upon re-direct, though, prosecutors were sure to then ask Officer Huller to describe the demeanor of Rowland and his wife. "Well, they were stressed and distraught at the time as could be expected," Huller said.
In the afternoon, Officer Robert Stephens, Jr., a 16 year veteran and K-9 officer of the Amherst Police Department testified.
He was off-duty but in uniform and in a marked SUV, just coming from another event the night of the crash. He testified he went to scene to assist. He called the lighting at the scene "very adequate." He decided to go looking for the damaged car. Originally he was told it was a "silver or gray sporty type car" but a short time later was told it was "dark blue or black."
He just happened to turn down right streets, or "dumb luck" as Prosecuter Bargnesi asked him. Officer Stephens testified he saw three women in front of 41 Mt. Holyoke Court, one sitting on the front steps with ice on her arm.
He pulled up and said, "excuse me," and none of them responded. He said "excuse me" again. Again, no response. He said he got out and walked up to them and asked if they saw a car with front end damage. He said two verbally responded but he wasn't allowed to tell the jury what the two women told him because it was heresay. The woman sitting didn't respond because she was on the phone at the time.
That woman, who Ofc. Stephens later learned was Mrs. Corasanti, gave the phone to the officer. Attorney Tom Burton was on the other end. He said they would discuss a surrender with Ofc. Stephens' supervisor but didn't discuss the client's name or location of the car.
Ofc. Stephen's stayed outside the home. Dr. Corasanti turned himself in elsewhere. Several hours later, they went in the garage and the car was there with front end damage on the passenger side. There was a small piece of bloody tissue near a step leading into house.
The final person to testify Monday was Joseph Piparo, a neighbor who lives accross the street from the Corasanti's and calls himself casual friends.
It was clear the entire time he was testifying for the prosecution, he was not pleased to be on the stand or answering Mr. Bargnesi's questions.
He said he was sleeping the night of the crash when Mrs. Corasanti came to the door "frantic" and "hysterical crying." He testified she said Jim was going to kill himself and she wanted Piparo to find her husband.
He said he found Dr. Corasanti within 5 minutes. Dr. Corasanti said, "Something bad has happened. I might have hit something, I don't know. I have to to do what I have to do. I want to be left alone." Piparo said he wouldn't leave him alone. He testified Dr. Corasanti said, "I've shamed myself and I've shamed my family."
Piparo said he asked, "How do you know you didn't hit a dog, cat, or deer?" And he said Corasanti said he knew he didn't because his wife went to the scene and saw an ambulance. Mr. Bargnesi asked about Corasanti's response to that and he said he didn't recall.
Piparo called his friend, a fellow Amherst police officer, who asked to put Corasanti on the phone. Meantime, another neighbor showed up at this point, as does Corasanti's brother-in-law.
Piparo handed his phone over to Corasanti, and during the conversation with Ofc. McGarvey, he also spoke on the phone with attorneys Burton and Cheryl Meyers about a surrender.
The four men walked with Corasanti to a Noco station for the surrender. He said Corasanti didn't smell like alcohol.
Mr. Bargnesi asked Piparo if there were any other conversations that night that he could recall. Piparo said no.
Piparo admitted police tried to question him several times after the night of the accident, and Chief John Askey even surprised him at his workplace- an auto repair shop- to question him, but he refused. He said he wanted a lawyer to be present. Piparo wouldn't answer questions until he testified before the Grand Jury in September.
He was much more forthcoming during cross-examination. Piparo called Corasanti a "great guy." He said when he found Corasanti he looked genuinely concerned and not put together. He looked like he might kill himself, he said. He testified at no point did Corasanti ever ask Piparo to fix or tow the car, knowing he owns a collision shop.
On cross-examination, Piparo recalled two other conversations he had that night. One, about asking if the police were approaching when it was really just their third neighbor. The other, about officer McGarvery saying on the phone that he struck a girl and she wasn't in good shape.
On re-direct, Mr. Bargnesi noted that Piparo remembered those conversations for the defense during cross-examination, but he didn't remember them for the prosecution during direct examination.