WHY WE FIGHT

From Newsday, Sept. 12:

Chilling testimony told in limo crash trial

Little Kate Flynn's body was not difficult to identify after she died in the wreckage of a head-on crash on the Meadowbrook Parkway, a Nassau medical examiner testified this morning: Her mother was still carrying her daughter's head at the hospital.

The testimony from Dr. Michael Demartino drew a quick and vehement objection from attorney Stephen LaMagna of Garden City, who is defending Martin Heidgen, 25, on charges of second-degree murder. Heidgen is accusing of driving drunk the wrong way on the parkway July 2, 2005. His pickup smashed into a limousine, killing Kate, 7, of Long Beach and driver Stanley Rabinowitz, 59, of Farmingdale.

Acting State Supreme Court Justice Alan Honorof ruled that the prosecution must limit testimony about Kate's decapitation to avoid unfairly prejudicing the jury against Heidgen.

Other testimony this morning came from drivers and first responders to the horrific crash scene. One of the first to arrive was Michael Tangney, Kate's uncle, who was also returning from the wedding of Kate's aunt, Lisa Mascolo.

Jennifer and Neil Flynn told a Nassau jury Monday in wrenching detail how a relaxing limousine ride home after one of the happiest days of their lives last summer ended in an instant when a pickup truck driving the wrong way on the Meadowbrook Parkway smashed head-on into them, wrecking their lives as thoroughly as it did the limo.

"It was quiet, and then the car exploded," said Jennifer Flynn, 37, testifying on the first day of the murder trial of Martin Heidgen, 25, of Valley Stream. He is charged with driving drunk the wrong way on the Meadowbrook July 2, 2005, killing the Flynns' daughter, Kate, 7, and the limo driver, Stanley Rabinowitz, 59, of Farmingdale. The family was returning to Long Beach from the Bayville wedding of Jennifer Flynn's sister, Lisa.

Jennifer Flynn looked straight at the jury as she described the moment she realized her daughter, who had been sleeping quietly on one of the limo's seats, was dead.

"Her hair was over her face, and I went to pick her up," Flynn said, speaking without emotion. "But then I realized it was just her head. I put my hand under her neck ... and I stated to the car that Kate was dead. It was more as a statement than as a scream."

"No, not Kate," wailed the girl's grandfather, Chris Tangney, who was suspended amid the bent metal, and whose foot was nearly cut off, Jennifer Flynn said. Jennifer's husband, Neil, just kept saying, "Katie angel, Katie angel, Katie angel," Jennifer Flynn said.

Then Jennifer Flynn said she asked about the driver.

"They said he was dead, too," she testified.

Monday, all four adult survivors of that horrific moment testified about what they remember. Heidgen, dressed neatly in a checkered tie and navy blazer, watched the testimony solemnly. Jurors seemed to listen in rapt attention, as family and friends of Rabinowitz and the Flynns wept quietly.

Jennifer and Neil Flynn and Denise and Chris Tangney all testified about their debilitating injuries. Neil Flynn said, "My physical injuries are the least of my problems."

He remembered on the witness stand how Katie and her younger sister Grace -- who survived the crash -- had played on the beach, collecting seashells. He said he told Katie that she could eat anything she wanted, and that he had picked her up and danced with her at the reception.

"Katie said it was the best day of her life," Neil Flynn said.

Denise Tangney, 57, Katie's grandmother, said she saw Heidgen's headlights from her seat at the back of the limo.

"I said to myself, 'Oh my God. We're going to get hit,'" she said. "I didn't have time to say, 'Hold on.'"

Prosecutor Bob Hayden said in his opening statement that what Heidgen did amounts to murder -- a rare charge in drunken driving cases and, some experts say, a tough one to prove. Hayden said Heidgen drank enough to put his blood-alcohol level at about three times the legal limit of .08 percent at the time of the crash. Later, Hayden said, Heidgen told a police officer that he had been in "self-destruct mode."

"He ignored horns" of passing cars, Hayden said. "He ignored headlights. He never swerved. He never wavered. He just kept coming."

But Heidgen's lawyer, Stephen LaMagna of Garden City, said while his client may have made mistakes, he did not commit murder. He said Heidgen, who had moved to the area about eight months earlier, was lost and slowed down as soon as he realized he was driving in the wrong direction. LaMagna said friends will testify that Heidgen was in a cheerful mood when he got into his car, not a self-destructive one.

On his way in to court in the morning, Heidgen expressed concern for the victims.

"I just want to say that my thoughts, my feelings, my prayers are with the other families involved, and that's from my heart," he said.

But Heidgen's words meant nothing to the Flynns.

Jennifer Flynn, wearing a colorful beaded necklace that Katie had made for her, said outside court that she has no doubt Heidgen is a murderer.

"He aimed at us with 4,000 pounds of steel," Jennifer Flynn said. She then drew a distinction between the trial and life since the crash. "The trial is difficult. Life is unbearable."

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