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Jurors get case of accused drunk driver in fatal parkway crash

Madi Grant, who's accused of driving while intoxicated

Madi Grant, who's accused of driving while intoxicated in 2014 on the Southern State Parkway, killing a 59-year-old ironworker who was driving to his job, and then arranging the arson of the vehicle he piloted in the crash to hide evidence, appears in the Nassau County Courthouse on Thursday, March 2, 2017 in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A Hempstead man on his way to work died beside the Southern State Parkway after a motorist “high on blunts” and “drunk on Hennessy” crashed into the victim’s car before fleeing and arranging a fire to destroy evidence, a prosecutor said Thursday at the accused’s trial.

But an attorney for manslaughter and arson defendant Madi Grant, 35, of Oyster Bay, told Nassau County Court jurors his client wasn’t in the driver’s seat during the Dec. 5, 2014 crash.

Defense lawyer Donald Rollock pinned the crime on key government witness Joseph Parks, 37, saying Grant was only a passenger in the Chevrolet Captiva that hit Sherman Richardson’s car at about 6:30 a.m. that morning in the Farmingdale area.

“Your driver is Mr. Parks. No ifs, no ands, no buts … that is truth,” the Mineola lawyer said in his closing argument.

However, Assistant District Attorney Stefanie Palma insisted Grant was driving during the crash that instantly killed Richardson, 59, after the Captiva’s high-speed rear impact propelled the ironworker’s car into a tree next to the parkway’s eastbound lanes.

“This is not a whodunit … The defendant killed Sherman Richardson. The evidence is overwhelming,” she said.

The victim’s widow, Jawana Richardson, shielded her face with one of her hands in court Thursday as the prosecutor showed wreck photos. The victim and his wife had been married for more than 20 years when he died at a time when he was preparing for retirement.

Prosecutors say Grant and Parks were returning from a Queens strip club when Grant caused the crash in the Captiva, a borrowed rental vehicle. They say Grant then left the parkway, before evading a witness who tried to follow the sport utility vehicle through the side streets of Amityville. That witness gave 911 a partial plate number and authorities found the SUV burning in Copiague later that day across the street from Grant’s girlfriend’s house, authorities said.

Palma reminded jurors Thursday of testimony from witnesses who said Grant confessed to causing the wreck, people she said only had that information because Grant “called them friends.”

But Rollock described that same group of people during the trial as “liars, felons, drug dealers,” and people the prosecution “cut deals with.”

Palma countered that Parks – an admitted drug dealer and felon – gave details about the crash “as only the front passenger could have described it,” including by saying a jolt woke him up before he saw Grant ripping an air bag away from his face. The prosecutor added that records showed Parks was using his phone when the Captiva was speeding through Amityville after the crash, and said he couldn’t have driven that way on roads unfamiliar to him while on the phone.

But Rollock said Parks’ testimony that he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt during the crash showed he was the driver because the Captiva’s black box showed the passenger had been wearing a seatbelt then, while the driver hadn’t been.

Jurors will continue their deliberations Friday.

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