Nashuan still defending his crash story
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
CONCORD - Nashua police and Charles Schack, a retired State Police accident investigator, reached two very different conclusions in the reconstruction of the 2007 accident that claimed the life of Daniel Rodriguez.
In question is whether Michael Gorsuch was behind the wheel when Rodriguez’s 2007 Toyota Scion veered off Thornton Road just after midnight Oct. 29, 2007, hitting several trees.
Neither Gorsuch or Rodriguez were wearing seat belts, and Rodriguez’s injuries proved fatal.
Despite Gorsuch’s steadfast denial that he was the driver, the state charged him with negligent homicide, accusing Gorsuch of driving recklessly while he was intoxicated.
Earlier this year, just as the case was about to get under way, the state dropped that charge after two retired State Police accident investigators reviewed the evidence and concluded that Gorsuch could not have been the driver.
Gorsuch is now fighting to maintain his driving privileges.
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The state is seeking to revoke Gorsuch’s license for up to seven years, maintaining he was the driver in the accident.
On behalf of the Division of Motor Vehicles, State Trooper Carleen Bowman presented her evidence before hearings examiner Mark Seymour on Tuesday at the Department of Safety in Concord.
Lt. John Fisher, head of the Nashua Police Department team that investigated the accident, testified Tuesday that his department concluded without a doubt that Gorsuch was the driver.
“Through the investigation, it was determined Daniel Rodriguez was the passenger,” Fisher said.
Among the evidence to back up the claim that Rodriguez was the passenger in his own car are the injuries he sustained, Fisher said.
Rodriguez sustained significant damage to the right side of his body, including a fractured skull to the right rear of his head, a neck injury consistent with impact on the passenger-side airbag and 11 broken ribs on his right side.
Citing conclusions reached by an autopsy conducted by the state medical examiner Dr. Thomas Andrew, Fisher said Rodriguez’s injuries are consistent with those of a passenger.
Schack, hired by Gorsuch’s defense team to conduct a private investigation into the accident, disagrees. Schack said all of the evidence puts Rodriguez behind the wheel.
“I feel extremely clear and confident on this,” he said. “There’s really no doubt in my mind that Daniel Rodriguez was the driver in this crash.”
It was Schack’s report, along with another independent report naming Rodriguez as the driver, that got the state to drop its negligent homicide charge against Gorsuch, said Steven Levesque, Gorsuch’s attorney.
Gorsuch’s injuries were far less serious, which Schack said makes sense if he was the passenger. Although that side of the car sustained the most damage, it was more protected when the airbag deployed.
“The person driving the vehicle not wearing a seat belt was, in my opinion, very vulnerable to substantial injury,” Schack said.
Tuesday’s hearing was a continuation of a hearing that began May 20. Both sides finished their presentations, and it is now up to Seymour to decide whether to revoke Gorsuch’s license.
Seymour said he would make his decision within 15 days.
The accident occurred at 12:26 a.m. The two men had spent the evening at Sky Lounge watching the Red Sox clinch a World Series victory over the Colorado Rockies. The bar was less than a mile from Rodriguez’s home on Ferncroft Drive.
Both men’s blood alcohol content was over the legal limit.
Gorsuch was at the hearing Tuesday but did not speak. Levesque argued that the evidence clearly puts his client in the passenger seat.
Rodriguez did not own the vehicle, but was able to take it out for a test drive because he was a salesman at Toyota of Nashua. The car had dealer plates and Rodriguez was the only one authorized to drive it, Levesque said.
Rodriguez took his job seriously and would never let anyone else drive the car, Levesque said.
The vehicle collided with two smaller trees before the third and final major collision with a large tree.
Rodriguez’s body was found in the back seat of the car, which Levesque said would not have been possible had he been the passenger because of the way the car impacted the tree.
“The physics say it’s impossible, common sense says it’s impossible,” Levesque said.
At one point, Fisher implied that someone might have moved Rodriguez’s body before first responders arrived.
DNA testing found Rodriguez’s blood on the front passenger seat and DNA that could have come from either man on the steering wheel.
In her closing statement, Bowman said Rodriguez’s blood samples and injuries support the state’s position.
“There is only one person who survived the crash and his version of what happened does not make sense,” she said.
There was also a Red Sox hat lodged between the passenger seat and the passenger side airbag with Gorsuch’s DNA on it, evidence that Levesque said supports their argument.
Bowman said Gorsuch has been inconsistent in his story, specifically regarding how he got out of the car after the accident.
Gorsuch originally told police he got out through the passenger side door. But after being told that the door couldn’t be opened, Gorsuch said he crawled over Rodriguez’s body to get out.
Levesque argued that is the only part of Gorsuch’s story that ever wavered. In a 90-minute interview with Nashua detectives, Gorsuch stated 70 times that he was not the driver, Levesque said.
Levesque went on to accuse Nashua detectives of trying to badger Gorsuch into changing his story to what they wanted to hear: that he was the driver.
Gorsuch volunteered to take a lie detector test and urged police to take fingerprints off the steering wheel. Fisher said they did check, but couldn’t find prints for Gorsuch or Rodriguez on the steering wheel.
At the end of the hearing, both sides indicated to Seymour that members of Rodriguez’s family were in the audience and were willing to make victim impact statements.
Barbara Rodriguez, Daniel’s mother, stood up to speak, but Seymour interrupted saying that he is not supposed to hear any victim impact statements until he has made a decision.
Rodriguez’s family declined comment as did Gorsuch. He could be seen speaking with members of Rodriguez’s family after the hearing.
Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or firstname.lastname@example.org.