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June 26, 2019 - 9:17pm

Deputy testimony during fatal Darien hit-and-run trial sparks controversy over sobriety tests

Genesee County Sheriff's Deputy Robert C. Henning took the stand today and recalled details about his arrest of alleged drunk driver Jennifer Serrano the night of a hit-and-run accident in Darien that killed 18-year-old Connor Lynskey of Hinckley last August. 

District Attorney Lawrence Friedman conducted a direct examination of the deputy in Genesee County Court today. Henning said that at approximately 1 a.m. on Aug. 11, he was traveling northbound on Route 77 to the county jail with an inmate who had just been arraigned in Darien Town Court.

Henning said that if Serrano's Jeep Wrangler had stayed on the shoulder of the road after she backed out of a driveway, he would have driven past her. However, the Jeep suddenly pulled onto Route 77 in front of the deputy's vehicle, which caused him to slam on his brakes to avoid a collision and swerve into the southbound lane of 77.

The deputy said he turned on his emergency lights and pulled over the Jeep moments after the near-collision. Serrano would have been charged with a minor traffic violation until Henning suspected she was impaired. Henning said he observed Serrano’s glassy eyes, slurred speech and a strong odor of alcohol on her breath.

Both Friedman and defense attorney Frank LoTempio entered Henning’s body camera footage into evidence so jurors could evaluate Henning and Serrano’s behaviors for themselves. Videos showed Serrano’s difficulty exiting her vehicle and maintaining her balance as she met Henning behind her vehicle.

Henning’s testimony revealed that Serrano’s statement to him about her whereabouts on Aug. 10 was not accurate. She said she traveled from Silver Creek, near Angola, to pick up her friend Candace Gilden from the Jason Aldean concert at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center. In reality, Serrano drove from Derby to the Town of Darien to also attend the concert. 

Henning said he could understand almost everything he was told by Serrano during the investigation. Friedman raised the question of whether Serrano’s alleged intoxication decreased her understanding of Henning’s directions. Serrano repeatedly asked about contacting family members, going to her friend’s home, and what was going to happen to herself and her vehicle. 

The deputy consistently answered her questions with the same answers, yet Serrano continued to ask them. In the body camera footage, Serrano also appeared to struggle with the instructions and sobriety test demonstrations given to her several times by Henning.

Henning testified that Serrano failed her "horizontal gaze nystagmus test" in which he moved a writing pen in front of Serrano as she attempted to follow its tip at different angles with her eyes.

During the walk-and-turn test, Serrano started the test too soon, raised her arms for balance and needed assistance to stay upright. Serrano did not walk heel to toe in a straight line, nor did she pivot correctly while turning nor take enough steps. Serrano therefore failed the test -- both when she wore flip-flops and while walking barefoot.

Serrano also failed a test where she was asked to raise her foot off the ground for half a minute, because she swayed, raised her arms for balance, and set her foot down before reaching 30 seconds. 

Henning said that when he asked Serrano to perform the alphabet from letter E to R, she failed to follow his instructions because she recited E through S before remembering she only needed to recite through R. LoTempio argued that his client performed the test correctly regardless of the small mistake.

Serrano lastly needed to blow into an Alco-Sensor breath-alcohol tester for a duration of time in order for an accurate blood-alcohol content reading to register. Since Serrano’s first test was insufficient and she avoided several attempts to submit to the test afterward, Henning placed her under arrest. 

During testimony today, Henning said Serrano also signed three refusal warning forms at the Batavia Police Department for refusing to submit to a DataMaster alcohol detection test in Batavia. She was later taken to Darien Town Court where her driver's license was suspended and then released from custody with tickets for allegedly drinking while intoxicated.

Serrano was charged with vehicular manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident without reporting it, driving while intoxicated, and aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. 

Serrano never reported hitting anything during the four-and-a-half hours she was in the presence of Sheriff’s deputies, police officers and a judge. LoTempio countered that no law enforcement officials noticed her vehicle's damaged windshield and right-side rear-view exterior mirror until it was discovered on Aug. 12. 

LoTempio challenged Henning’s execution of the tests during cross examination by claiming that sobriety tests only indicate intoxication, if they are all performed correctly. Henning maintained that traffic, darkness and the slight slope of Route 77 were factors that should not have a significant impact on Serrano’s sobriety-test performance.

A pregnant pause filled the courtroom after LoTempio asked Henning a final question. If Serrano performed so poorly on tests while supposedly intoxicated with a BAC of 0.8, how could Lynskey have conducted himself normally while he was traveling on foot along Sumner Road with a 0.16 BAC at the time he was struck by Serrano’s vehicle? 

Her trial will resume at 9:30 a.m. Thursday morning at Genesee County Court.



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