Medical examiner says Rice died almost instantly
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Jurors on Friday looked at the buckled hood and damaged fender of the 2010 BMW that struck teenage skateboarder Alexandria “Alix” Rice last summer. The car parts were displayed near the jury box at the manslaughter and hit-and-run trial of Dr. James G. Corasanti in Erie County Court. “The hood is buckled back as a result of the impact with the victim,” testified Kevin Murphy, a senior investigator for the Amherst Police Traffic Accident Investigation Bureau. Prosecutor James F. Bargnesi asked Murphy about the car parts as the two stood near them, with other prosecutors and defense lawyers gathered near them. Corasanti remained sitting at the defense table with defense lawyer Cheryl Meyers-Buth, one of his three attorneys.
In other testimony, Murphy described the gouge created on the Heim Road shoulder, or bike lane, where Rice was struck on the night of July 8. A part of Rice’s nearly 4-foot-long longboard was driven into the pavement, marking the point of impact, Murphy said. The gouge is 15 inches from the driving lane, Murphy said. Murphy, who has investigated traffic deaths and injuries for 21 years, described the location of small pieces of car parts and Rice’s longboard and other belongings along the “debris field” he inspected. The traffic investigator also testified about the lighting along Heim, identifying four nearby utility poles with lights. How well-lit that stretch of road was at the time of the incident has been a point of contention between prosecutors and defense lawyers.
In other developments on the sixth day of Corasanti’s trial:
* Jonrika Malone, an associate chief medical examiner, testified Rice died almost instantly, describing the young woman’s fatal injury as an “internal decapitation of her neck,” caused by blunt force trauma.
* Jurors saw three autopsy photos over objections from Corasanti’s lawyers, who called them “inflammatory.” But Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio ruled that “clearly the photos are relevant to the issues in this case.”
* Malone, who performed Rice’s autopsy, said she could not determine Rice’s position on the longboard — whether she was crouched, kneeling or bent over — at the time she was struck by Corasanti’s car.
* Amherst Police Detective John Trabert described how police arranged for a trash hauler to pick up Corasanti’s garbage on his normal trash day 11 days after the incident and then deliver the trash to the police station, where it was examined. A smaller, empty garbage truck picked up only Corasanti’s trash — nobody else’s in the neighborhood — and took it to the station. Police have yet to testify about what they found in the trash.
* Defense lawyer Joel L. Daniels objected for the record to the removal of juror Michael E. Barron from the jury Thursday. The 40-year-old Kenmore man was arrested Thursday for aggravated drunken driving and traffic offenses after he knocked over a utility pole and drove away. Barron’s blood-alcohol content was triple the legal limit. Daniels, however, said Barron had said he could listen to the evidence in Corasanti’s hit-and-run case in a fair and impartial manner. DiTullio said she considered Barron’s demeanor and credibility when she found him “grossly unqualified” to continue serving as a juror.
Corasanti, 56, faces charges of second-degree vehicular manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter, leaving the scene of an incident without reporting resulting in death, and tampering with physical evidence. He could face up to 23 years in prison if convicted on the felony charges. Daniels has insisted Corasanti was not drunk and did not realize he struck Rice during his drive home from the Transit Valley Country Club on July 8. Shortly after the Getzville doctor arrived home, and he realized an ambulance was called to the scene, he panicked, Daniels has said. Prosecutors, however, point to a blood test showing Corasanti registered a 0.10 percent blood-alcohol content five hours after the late-night hit-and-run incident. A pathologist has testified that Corasanti would have had a reading of anywhere from 0.14 to 0.21 percent at the time he was driving.
Rice, was skateboarding on Heim Road where she was struck by a car and thrown 167 feet from the point of impact, prosecutors have said. Malone, the pathologist, said Friday that Rice’s neck was broken, her neck muscles torn and her brain stem cut in half. Was her death “almost instantaneous?” a defense lawyer asked. “Correct,” Malone replied. Both of Rice’s legs were also broken. The three autopsy photos showed severe abrasions on the 5-foot, 5-inch teenager.