After walking free this morning following 239 days in jail, Dr. James G. Corasanti hopes to stay in Western New York.
He looks forward to reuniting with his wife and young son, and he intends to resume working as a physician.
“He hopes to stay here. He would like very much to stay here,” said Joel L. Daniels, one of the attorneys who defended Corasanti in his high-profile trial last year. “He has a lot of patients here. They very much would like him to stay and continue to take care of them.”
Corasanti was acquitted in Erie County Court on all felony charges related to the traffic death of an 18-year-old longboard skater but was found guilty of drunken driving.
A jury acquitted him of manslaughter, leaving the scene and evidence-tampering charges, rejecting the prosecution contention that while on his way home from a country club outing, Corasanti was texting, speeding and driving on the shoulder of Heim Road in Amherst when his car fatally struck Alexandria “Alix” Rice on July 8, 2011.
Jurors convicted him of DWI, even though they concluded that his drunkenness did not directly cause her death.
Corasanti, 57, of Getzville, was released today from the Erie County Correctional Facility in Alden after serving two-thirds of his one-year jail sentence.
County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio sentenced Corasanti on Aug. 17 to the maximum punishment for misdemeanor DWI. In addition to the jail term, Corasanti was fined $1,000 and ordered to pay a $395 surcharge, and his driver’s license was suspended for six months.
He will get out of jail nearly four months early because of credit for good behavior.
“I don’t get early release,” said Richard J. Rice, father of the victim, who said he struggles with his loss every day. “There’s no early release for Alix or myself.”
Tammy A. Schueler, the victim’s mother, said, “I feel his release is something that affects his life – not my life – and I’ll just leave it at that.” She declined further comment.
Rice said he remains bewildered that jurors acquitted Corasanti of the felony charges while convicting him of drunken driving.
“He hasn’t been punished for killing Alix,” Rice said of Corasanti. “He went to jail for driving drunk – nothing more. To this day, he has faced no consequences for the actual death of Alix.”
Corasanti testified at his trial that he was not drunk and did not realize he had struck Rice during his drive home from a couples golf outing at the Transit Valley Country Club.
The doctor does not plan to make any public comments upon his release from jail, said Daniels, who, with attorneys Cheryl Meyers Buth and Thomas H. Burton, defended Corasanti.
“There may be a time in the future when he would like to make some public remarks, but not right now,” Daniels said.
Corasanti’s only public comments about the fatal incident came as he testified at his trial, when he said he “felt personal guilt” that he was “not able to help someone I hurt.” But he said it was “not criminal guilt.”
“This man went through a brutal ordeal,” Daniels said of Corasanti. “A jury heard the evidence. A jury found him not guilty of causing the death of Alix Rice. He served the sentence imposed by the court. Now he’s entitled to go back and do what he does best: practice medicine, treat his patients, cure disease and save lives.
“There are countless patients who waited all this time for him to practice again so that he can treat them with all his God-given skills.”
Daniels called the gastroenterologist “a doctor with great ability.”
Corasanti has kept his medical license, but before his sentencing, the state Health Department’s Board for Professional Medical Conduct fined him $10,000 and placed him on five years’ probation for his DWI conviction.
The board ordered Corasanti to immediately enroll in an ethics program, stay free of alcohol and remain active with self-help groups on substance abuse. The board also required him to undergo random sobriety screenings at least six times a month for at least a year.
In addition, he was directed to go for psychiatric evaluation and therapy.
While he is on probation, Corasanti may practice medicine only under the supervision of another licensed physician, according to a consent decree. He also must be monitored by a therapist and a sobriety monitor. The order went into effect in August. Corasanti may appeal to lift the probation after three years.
Corasanti was asked to leave the Buffalo Medical Group after the fatal accident, and he then practiced for a while at an office in Orchard Park before his incarceration. “He will not be going back to Orchard Park,” Daniels said. “He’s not restricted to staying with any group. Whatever group he goes with, he will be compliant with all of the conditions of his agreed-upon probationary terms.”
Moving out of state may not be an option if he wants to continue practicing medicine. “That could be a problem because we’re told certain states will not allow you to transfer the license while under probation,” Daniels said.
Jail was not easy for Corasanti, his lawyer said. “It would be hard for any of us,” Daniels said. “It was difficult for him, like it is for anyone else who has to do time. In that situation, you learn to adjust. To his credit, he was a very compliant inmate.”
While Corasanti’s criminal case is over, he’s not done with the legal system in the fatal incident.
The parents’ civil case against him is in the discovery phase, with both sides preparing for a September trial, said Terrence M. Connors, the parents’ attorney.
Richard Rice said strangers have approached him to talk about how they would treat the doctor if they came face to face with him.
“I think they’ll do more than whisper behind his back,” Rice said. “That’s not what I want to see happen. None of that will bring our daughter back.
“I try not to think about him, but, unfortunately, he creeps into my thoughts.”
Rice said it is hard for him to talk publicly about the loss of his daughter.
But he said he will offer whatever help he can to promote efforts to close a legal loophole and make it a felony for a drunken driver to leave the scene of an accident. The State Senate recently passed Alix’s Law, named in memory of his daughter, to close the loophole. He also has volunteered to help Crusade Against Impaired Driving, an organization that provides anti-DWI education in the community and offers victim services to those affected by drunken-driving incidents.
“I’m trying to function as a good member of the community,” Rice said. “I want to be a model citizen – not a model prisoner.”