Michael Grasing faces murder charge in Brittney Walsh death

Suffolk DA Thomas Spota and the father of Brittney Walsh, the teen who was killed in a crash in Lindenhurst, talk about upgraded charges against Michael Grasing, the suspected drunken driver. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (July 18, 2012)

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A Babylon man who was driving drunk at speeds of up to 100 mph before he hit and killed a Lindenhurst teenager was charged with murder because he showed such disrespect for the lives of others, Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said Wednesday.

Michael Grasing, 31, pleaded not guilty to an 11-count indictment charging him with second-degree murder, aggravated vehicular homicide, aggravated driving while intoxicated and other charges. State Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen ordered him held on bail of $1 million cash or $2 million bond.

It was the first time Spota had sought murder charges in a crash involving alleged drunken driving and the first time such charges were brought in Suffolk in more than a decade.

Grasing is accused of having a blood-alcohol content of .30 percent -- almost four times the legal limit of .08 percent -- on June 24 when he blew through three red lights, drove on the sidewalk and in oncoming lanes at up to 100 mph on Montauk Highway in Lindenhurst before he plowed into the back of a Kia Sportage driven by Brittney Walsh, 18, who had graduated from high school two days earlier. She was going home from work at Kmart that evening.

"Brittney Walsh never had a chance," Spota said. "Michael Grasing clearly had a total disregard for the value of any human life."

The crash came soon after another motorist warned Grasing that if he didn't stop driving that way, he'd kill someone -- a key factor in the decision to seek a murder charge, Spota said.

"Michael Grasing heard that warning," he said. "Michael Grasing chose to ignore that warning."

Grasing's car hit Walsh's vehicle so hard it rolled several times before smashing into a store window and a utility pole, Assistant District Attorney Laura Newcombe said in court. Grasing, who never hit the brakes, then knocked over three traffic signs and nearly hit several pedestrians before hitting another pole, she said.

"I've got to get out of here," he said, according to Newcombe, as he struggled to escape from bystanders.

Newcombe said the evidence against Grasing is strong. Numerous civilian and police witnesses saw him driving erratically at "obscenely high rates of speed," and much of it -- including the crash -- was on surveillance video.

Grasing slouched into court and hung his head throughout the arraignment. His attorney, William Keahon, was at another trial, so Daniel Russo represented him Wednesday. Russo declined to comment afterward.

Spota acknowledged that proving Grasing acted with depraved indifference to human life -- necessary to winning a murder conviction -- won't be easy.

"The courts are in a state of flux over what constitutes depraved indifference murder," he said.

Walsh's father, Tom Walsh, said he realized that a murder conviction is not guaranteed. "We understand what's going on," he said, with his arm around his wife, Cheryl. "We are confident that the district attorney will do the right thing."

Walsh said it was "uncomfortable" to see Grasing in person. His voice choked up as he said the court case can only do so much for them.

"Regardless of what happens in that courtroom, it will never bring my little girl back," he said, tightening his grip on his wife.

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