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Police officer recalls scene of fatal accident in drunken driving murder trial

Suffolk County first precinct Officer Brian MacDermott, at

Suffolk County first precinct Officer Brian MacDermott, at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead Monday afternoon where he was called to testify on Oct. 27, 2014 in the trial against Michael Grasing, who is on trial for 2nd degree murder in the deadly crash that killed Brittney Walsh in Lindenhurst in 2012. Credit: James Carbone

Moments after a Suffolk police officer came upon a field of debris across Montauk Highway and an overturned sport utility vehicle with a dead teenager in it, a man walked up to the scene, the officer testified Monday in a Riverhead courtroom.

Officer Brian MacDermott said he was going to ask the man, John Patsalos, to step away, but Patsalos said he "saw the whole thing." MacDermott said Patsalos told him he saw a man in a gray Nissan pull out of a Wendy's almost two miles east, drive at high speed through red lights and veer all over the road. Patsalos said he spoke to the man from his pickup truck at one red light, MacDermott said.

"You've got to stop driving like this," Patsalos said he had told the man, according to MacDermott. "You're going to kill someone."

Prosecutors say the Nissan driver, Michael Grasing, 33, of West Babylon did kill someone -- Brittney Walsh, 18, the driver of the overturned Kia Sportage that MacDermott found on June 24, 2012. He is on trial before state Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen, charged with second-degree murder. Grasing is accused of driving aggressively and recklessly with a blood-alcohol content of .32 percent, four times the legal limit.

Before finding the crash scene, MacDermott said, he was about to turn onto Montauk Highway when Grasing roared by at what he estimated to be 100 mph. During questioning by Assistant District Attorney Laura Newcombe, he said he followed at more than 75 mph but lost sight of Grasing at a bend in the road right before the crash scene.

Defense attorney William Keahon suggested that almost nothing said by Patsalos, who died a few weeks after the crash, could be believed. During questioning by Keahon, MacDermott said he made no notes of his two conversations with Patsalos until weeks later, when he'd heard Patsalos had died. MacDermott said he assumed a detective would take a thorough witness statement from Patsalos, but it didn't include the words Patsalos said he told Grasing.

Keahon suggested in his questioning that such a conversation would be impossible. Even if Patsalos did catch up to Grasing at a light, his pickup truck was so much higher than Grasing's car that they could not have talked to each other, Keahon suggested.

MacDermott said he didn't tell detectives at the scene what Patsalos told him, adding, "This is not a secret that I was trying to keep at the scene." He said he just expected Patsalos to tell detectives the same story.

Keahon also showed MacDermott a video of the crash taken from a nearby store's surveillance system. It shows MacDermott arriving a few seconds afterward and Patsalos arriving about 45 seconds later.

Keahon then asked MacDermott, "If you didn't see the accident, how could he?"

MacDermott said it was possible Patsalos had pulled over at the curve, but he said he did not see anyone pulled over there that night.

MacDermott's description of Grasing's driving also differed from Patsalos. MacDermott said that although Grasing was driving at high speed, he saw him only in the right lane, not all over the road and on the sidewalk, as Patsalos said.

And MacDermott told Keahon that his dispatcher relayed no 911 calls to him of someone driving at high speed in and out of lanes.

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