We donít know if the decision to impose the maximum sentence on Dr. James G. Corasanti was a difficult one for Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio or if it was the easiest judgment she ever had to make, but this much is incontestable: Given the irredeemable consequences of Corasantiís crime, the sentence was fair Ė or at least as fair as the law allowed.
What the sentence of one year in the Erie County Correctional Facility does not do, even in the remotest way, is to balance the scales of justice. Alix Rice is dead, killed by Corasanti, who was intoxicated, texting and speeding when his car plowed into the skate boarding teenager last year. Another driver in a similar situation who couldnít afford Corasantiís high-powered legal team would be spending time in a state prison, not a county jail, and for a period measured in years, not months.
Still, DiTullio did what she could. Although Corasanti was tried on several felony charges, including manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter and evidence tampering, the jury convicted him only of a misdemeanor count of driving while intoxicated. Many Western New Yorkers were outraged at the verdict, but the jury was bound to consider not only the prosecutionís case, but the one presented by a skillful defense team. Importantly, the jury was also restricted by weaknesses in state law.
Thus, while Corasanti faced the entirely appropriate possibility of 23 years in state prison if convicted on the felony counts, what remained to DiTullio after the trial was a maximum of one year in county jail. It was insufficient to the misery Corasanti caused, but it will have to do.
Even so, a lesser sentence could have provided further leverage. The judge could have sentenced Corasanti to three years of probation, for example, and also required community service. He also could have been forced into alcohol counseling and monitoring. Those are attractive options, given what appears to be a serious problem with alcohol, but in the end, DiTullio needed to deliver as stern a message as she could to Corasanti and the many others who drink and drive, and so play with innocent lives.
Now there is more for others to do, beginning with Corasanti himself. We donít know what he has done since the accident to deal with his problems, but he needs to undergo treatment for alcohol abuse. Although the jury didnít hear it, Corasanti was also convicted of driving under the influence in the late 1990s.
At a minimum, his behavior will be monitored as a result of action by the State Department of Health, which fined him $10,000 and placed him on administrative probation for five years. He will be able to practice medicine only under the supervision of another licensed physician during that time and must by monitored by a therapist and a sobriety monitor.
The State Legislature also needs to act. After the May verdict, Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan, R-Elma, and Assemblyman Dennis H. Gabryszak, D-Cheektowaga, moved to close a loophole that helped lead to the juryís unsatisfying verdict. They proposed to amend the law to require any driver coming in contact with any object to investigate and report property damage or contact with a person.
Corasanti had argued that he didnít know he had struck Alix, and so continued on his drunken way home. The jury believed him. Under the proposed change in law, that wouldnít have mattered.
The legislation went nowhere, partly because it was introduced only a week before the end of the legislative session. Lawmakers need to revisit it as soon as it reconvenes, no later than January.
There are other Alixes out there and if the law canít fully protect them from drivers like Corasanti, it can do a better job of making sure they pay an appropriate price for their indifference.