The sole witness to testify Friday morning in Genesee County Court in the fatal hit-and-run case of Jennifer L. Serrano was Thomas C. Onions, an accident reconstruction expert hired by the defense.
Connor Lynskey, 18, was walking to the Darien Lakes State Campground following the Jason Aldean concert last summer; Serrano, who also attended the concert, was en route to a friend's house at the time of the accident on Sumner Road.
The witness said he: reviewed all of the materials -- reports, cell phone records, videos and photos -- gathered by investigators; visited the Darien site where Lynskey's body was found late in the morning Aug. 11; and took measurements to gauge the accuracy of those contained in Sgt. Jason Saile's investigation report.
In addition, Onions said in order to completely understand the case, he studied: the case file of Serrano's co-counsel Jack M. Sanchez; the Monroe County Medical Examiner's abstract; the deposition of Deputy Robert C. Henning (who arrested Serrano on a drunk-driving charge after she nearly struck his patrol car on Route 77 in the early morning Aug. 11); and the Darien Town Court's subsequent notice of temporary suspension of Serrano's NYS driver's license; search warrants; the Genesee County Grand Jury indictment; deposition of witness and passenger Candace Gilden; and vehicle specs for the defendant's Jeep Wrangler.
Attorney Frank LoTempio asked what he had determined about the accident and Onions said that Sumner Road at the time was unlit and dark, and had virtually no shoulders -- they measured from 1.2 inches to 5 inches in width, and were comprised of mixed gravel. Some grass is found beyond that, and cornfields. The two paved lanes total 22 feet across -- one lane is 10.8 feet, the other 11.2 feet wide.
Onions said Serrano was driving eastbound and that Lynskey was walking westbound in the eastbound lane, which would be in accordance with NYS traffic law that requires pedestrians to walk on the left side of the road, when there are no sidewalks, facing oncoming traffic.
This contradicts an allegation made on Thursday by LoTempio that Lynskey was possibly in violation of NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law 1156b, since the landing spot of Lynskey’s body indicated he may have walked or jogged in the same direction as Serrano’s Jeep.
The point of impact is unclear.
Sgt. Saile's report, while noting an 87-foot debris field along the road, shoulder and adajcent land, found no evidence of tire marks in gravel to indicate the actual point of impact; nor were sneaker scuff marks found to indicate the direction of impact.
"They documented everything," Onions said of the Crash Management Team." (Saile) knew enough to look for sneaker scuffs that could indicate the point of impact. He didn't find any. ... There is no evidence to indicate the vehicle ever left the road."
Because of this, Onions said it is his contention that the impact occurred on the roadway -- that Lynskey was walking in the roadway.
On a display of the area shown to the jury on a large monitor, Onions pointed to a streak of flattened terrain marking where Lynskey's body slid south in a parallel line from the roadway after being struck, and bits of debris were strewn eastward.
The "total station measurements" taken by Sgt. Saile were pronounced accurate by Onions.
Serrano, who stood politely without prompting each time the jury entered and exited the courtroom, put on her distance eyeglasses to better see Onion's presentation, although she could not see the monitor herself.
Next a photograph purported to be a footprint or disturbed gravel was put on view.
Onions testified that it "could be typical of anything you could see in a mile stretch of gravel" along Sumner Road. He further maintained that if it were indeed a footprint, it had nothing to do with the accident. If it did there would be a tire track over it, he said, and there wasn't.
"If that's debris by it, the accident would have had to occur elsewhere. If it's a footprint, it could be anybody's," Onions said.
Next they considered the formula for how far the "throw" is for a human body depending on the speed a vehicle is traveling, which, when calculable, is made using the "Searle formula." It is determined by the degree of friction on a pedestrian and the total "flight distance" traveled/slid/thrown to the final resting place, in this case, a ditch.
Onions said he projected the distance that Lynskey's body traveled to be 60 feet from the roadway and he calculated that there is no scientific evidence to support that Serrano was traveling greater than 37.5 mph.
When Lynskey was struck on his right side, his body rotated after hitting the right side front fender, which caused the cover over the tire to become dislodged. His head is believed to have struck and cracked the windshield, damaging its supporting side post. Then he slammed against the right front side mirror, smashing it against the vehicle, before the trajectory away from the vehicle.
And yet Onions testified it was "iffy" and "on the line" as to whether or not this was a "full impact" crash.
In order to react to avoid a collision, the driver or pedestrian needs to be able to see -- something in the roadway, the oncoming traffic. In darkness, clothing that is light and/or reflective helps. If the road is unlit and the pedestrian is wearing dark clothes, as Lynskey was, he becomes invisible.
"You disappear," Onions told the jury.
He said the average person can see a pedestrian walking at a distance of 80 feet away. Traveling the speed limit on Sumner Road of 55 mph, that's roughly 80 feet per second. If Serrano was traveling at 37.5 mph and no more as Onions contends, that's still 55 feet per second -- or less than 2 seconds to react, on average.
"If you look at your speedometer for 1 second it may make all the difference in the world," Onions said.
Intoxication is another consideration.
Lynskey's BAC was determined by a Monroe County coroner to be .16, twice the legal limit. Serrano's BAC at the time is undocumented.
Deputy Henning reported that Serrano failed multiple parts of a field sobriety test after he stopped her vehicle on Route 77. The officer attempted a roadside Alco-sensor test but after Serrano blew once and it didn't register a reading, she wouldn't blow again. She also refused a Datamaster test at the Batavia Police Station and she refused three separate requests to submit to the test at Darien Town Court.
"It's very possible," Onions testified Friday, "that intoxication had nothing to do with it."
On this road with this shoulder, could (a pedestrian) tripping be a factor?" LoTempio asked his witness, who replied "yes."
Serrano, wearing dark pants, a black knit top and vivid blue sweater with a ruffled front, seemed to pay close attention to the proceedings as did all of the jurors, a panel of five men, seven women, and four alternates, who all appear to be caucasian but range widely in age.
Friedman then cross-examined Onions, eliciting from him that his payday for his efforts on behalf of the defense so far stands at about $8,000.
"Is it fair to say that if your conclusions didn't help the defendant you would have earned less?" Friedman asked.
"That's a true statement," Onions said.
In deconstructing the expert's curriculum vitae, Friedman pointed out that several of the state and national organizations that Onions claims he belongs to either do not list Onions as being a member, or his membership or certification expired years ago, or the organization is no longer viable, and in one case it was found to have granted membership for a fee to a person's cat.
The DA also noted that some crash test dummy testing that Onions boasts of performing was conducted in 1999 and involved an adult dummy in a wheelchair with a dummy child, and now-outmoded test equipment, vehicle materials and safety features.
From there, the district attorney tackled night visibility, asking whether pale, caucasian legs in shorts could increase visibility of the wearer. The response was no, but Friedman clarified it, saying visibility "assumes the driver is paying attention."
"Yes," Onions allowed.
But "you don't know if (Serrano) was paying attention," Friedman said, asking if the witness had ever spoken to his boss, the person he's working for, and Onions admitted he never has.
The fact cited earlier in the morning about the average driver being able to see a pedestrian 80 feet away, based on visibility studies by Dr. Paul Olson, was also not allowed to go unchallenged.
The DA said the study is dated -- from the early '80s -- and subsequent findings indicate that 50 percent of drivers can see a pedestrian at night 150 feet away. More recent studies put a visibility figure of 175 feet for pedestrians in dark clothes, 700 feet for those with light-reflective clothing on.
Modern halogen headlamps provide 151 to 178 feet of visibility, and on an unlit darkened road, Serrano should have been driving with high beams on (if there's no oncoming traffic). When asked, Onions said he did not know if Serrano had her high beams on that night.
Friedman also took Onions to task on his "body throw" measurement using the Searle formula, which cannot be used to calculate speed when there is an "iffy" partial or "noncomforming impact" in terms of body vs. vehicle.
"There is NO EVIDENCE to support ANY speed," Friedman said, and in fact, Serrano could have been going faster than the 37.5 mph Onions said is the limit supported by science.
From there, the DA quizzed the expert on his scientific basis for doubling the body throw trajectory -- from 30 to 60 feet.
Friedman said there's a cornucopia of factors from visibility and distance and rain and geography to type of headlamp and snowfall, in other words "there is no one size fits all," despite what Onions would like the jury to believe.
Moving along, the DA questioned why there is no mention of any alcohol consumption by Serrano in Onions' report.
Onions said it was not an issue.
With clear incredulousness in his voice, Friedman said her intoxication and driver's reaction were already testified to in this case.
Passenger Gilden's statements about their consumption of alcohol was also left out of Onions' report, the DA noticed.
Onions took pains to note that there was nothing to indicate swerving, loss of control or speeding, no tire marks, disturbed gravel or skids marks.
"No one said she swerved," Friedman said, as if puzzled by the point of those assertions.
In fact, there was no vehicle testing done on the roadway and therefore no scientific evidence to say Serrano didn't drive the entire length of Sumner Road along the shoulder.
"There is no evidence that she was in or out of her lane," Friedman said, and Onions conceded the point.
Serrano is charged with vehicular manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident without reporting it, driving while intoxicated, and aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.
The case resumes at 9 a.m. on Monday, July 1.