A crisis so deep there’s almost no way to maintain reputation

The DWI-manslaughter trial riveting Western New York involves a prominent physician accused of striking and killing an 18-year-old skateboarder late one night last summer as she rode home from her job at a pizzeria.

The doctor, James Corasanti, fled the Town of Amherst scene in his damaged BMW 750 and surrendered to police a short time later. Several hours after that they determined he was still above the legal limit for intoxicated driving after a day and evening at his golf club.

The court of public opinion long ago pronounced him guilty for, as a physician, not stopping to help the victim; although court testimony subsequently showed she died instantly. Guilty or not in the criminal trial, he faces major civil lawsuits.

As he said to a neighbor the night of the accident: “I’ve ruined my life. I’ve ruined my career.”

The trial took a bizarre twist today with news that the judge dismissed one of the jurors who police charged yesterday with DWI and fleeing the scene. Life imitating life.



Corasanti’s reputation is shot, no doubt. Barring some fact proving his innocence, there’s little he could have done after the accident — extensively covered in the media for all its juxtapositions and drama — or now that the trial is underway to rehabilitate his reputation.

Even if his [well-paid] legal team successfully wins acquittal, Corasanti could face bankruptcy, loss of his medical license and essentially need to move from the area and start over someplace else. Not to mention the burden of negligently killing someone.

But there are more reputations involved than his in this complex case and human drama.

Radio and television broadcast daily lawyerly interpretations of the trial’s events. A former U.S. attorney, Dennis C. Vacco, is on one channel; Paul J. Cambria Jr., a defense attorney who represented national clients like Larry Flynt, is on the radio; as is the recently retired Erie County DA, Frank Clark, a microphone hound if there ever were one.

In addition, the current DA, Frank A. Sedita III has skin in the game as his team of prosecutors tries to put Corasanti in prison. The perception since the accident is of Corasanti’s overwhelming guilt. James F. Bargnesi, head of the District Attorney‘s Homicide Bureau, is on the hot seat to deliver justice for the victim, Alix Rice. Public opinion expects a conviction and media and citizen observers will probably only tolerate that form of “success.”

And then there are the reputations of Corasanti’s defense team, which mercifully no media have yet designated as a “dream team,” though they might qualify, in a local sense. Joel A. Daniels, Thomas Burton and Cheryl Meyers-Buth face an uphill fight to win, but low expectations that they can do so on Corasanti’s behalf. There’s big upside potential for them.

Finally, Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio, a no-nonsense, well-respected jurist, is clearly taking pains to run a fair trial to reach a verdict that will withstand inevitable appeal.

It’s a fascinating cast of characters, with everyone vying to come out winners and no medals for second place.


About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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