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Brittney Walsh's mother testifies in drunken driving murder trial

Thomas and Cheryl Walsh, parents of DWI victim

Thomas and Cheryl Walsh, parents of DWI victim Brittney Walsh, at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead Thursday afternoon during a lunch break on Oct. 23, 2014. Photo Credit: James Carbone

When a Lindenhurst teenager didn't come home promptly from her new job, her mother had a feeling something was wrong, she testified Thursday in a Riverhead courtroom.

Brittney Walsh, 18, was late returning from work at Kmart and wasn't responding to texts, Cheryl Walsh said.

"That's a little unlike Brittney," Walsh said. "At 10:45, I said to my husband, 'We've got to go looking for her.' "

She said she headed east toward the Kmart, but quickly discovered Montauk Highway was blocked off. She found a police officer and asked if he knew anything about her daughter's white Kia Sportage.

"Don't move. Stay right here," he told her, and then she said she called her husband.

"Two detectives came up to us and explained what happened -- that Brittney was involved in a car crash and she'd passed," Walsh said.

She testified at the trial of Michael Grasing, 33, who is charged with second-degree murder, accused of killing her daughter on June 24, 2012, while driving recklessly and with a blood-alcohol content of .32 percent, four times the legal limit.

Defense attorney William Keahon had tried to keep Cheryl Walsh off the witness stand, first offering to concede to any fact she would testify about, then arguing her testimony was "completely irrelevant to any of the elements of the crimes charged." He said the point of her testimony was to create impermissible sympathy.

"We're human beings," Keahon said. "It's inviting prejudice and my client is not getting a fair trial."

But state Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen said legal precedent showed her testimony was permissible.

On the stand, Walsh described her daughter's last days, including her graduation from Copiague High School two days before and going to work on June 24.

By the time Walsh described hearing her daughter had died, at least one juror was crying and Grasing also appeared to be fighting back tears.

Assistant District Attorney Laura Newcombe asked Walsh to explain her daughter's license plate, SMILE 14, visible in photos on the bumper ripped off the vehicle. "She was always smiling, always happy," Walsh said. "Fourteen was her soccer number, since she was 5."

Later, Walsh said testifying was a tumultuous experience. "It's been an emotional week," she said. "The pictures, the video -- a lot of sleepless nights."

Earlier, emergency medical technician Michelle Smedley of the Lindenhurst Fire Department testified that her crew went to care for Grasing after it was obvious Brittney Walsh was dead. Grasing had continued driving three blocks past the collision on the sidewalk before hitting a telephone pole.

She said Grasing was combative, flailing his arms and legs, and he smelled heavily of alcohol. "Let me go!" he yelled as he was strapped to a backboard, Smedley said. "I want to get out of here!"

He continued to struggle in the ambulance, jerking around so much that his oxygen mask fell off, Smedley said.

Earlier, a motorist who witnessed the crash, Laura Giegrich, burst into tears as she testified she pulled out of a gas station behind Walsh's Kia when a car swooped by on her right, veered in front and rammed the Kia, sending it tumbling sideways down the road. "It was like an action movie," she said.

She pulled over and ran past a blood-spattered sidewalk to the Kia, on its side with its wheels still spinning. She started toward the driver, but two men blocked her. "They said, 'Stop. You don't want to see this,' " she said.

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