The aggravated vehicular homicide trial of a man accused of striking and killing a local college student is set to begin Monday with one key piece of evidence no longer available for inspection — the truck he was driving at the time.
That truck, a white Dodge Dakota, attorneys from both sides learned recently, has long since been destroyed, when it should have been preserved. An investigation is under way to determine exactly what happened, police said, though early indications are that it was some sort of miscommunication.
What impact the destruction of the truck will have on the upcoming trial is uncertain. Prosecutors and police noted that, while it shouldn’t have been destroyed, it was fully documented, with a total of 165 photos taken and the inner workings gone through and documented.
Still, the attorney for defendant Anthony Gallo this week asked that the entire case against his client be dismissed, saying the defense can’t perform tests and examinations of the truck.
The attorney, Michael Mansion, likened the destruction of the truck to a murder case where the alleged murder weapon is destroyed before trial.
Presiding Judge Richard Giardino denied the request to dismiss, but left open the possibility of a special instruction to the jury related to the destroyed truck.
The case involves the Nov. 16, 2011, hit-and-run accident that killed 19-year-old Cassandra Boone.
Police say Boone was struck by Gallo’s truck as she crossed Erie Boulevard. The victim has been described as a woman with a kind heart, someone who devoted her time to classes at Schenectady County Community College and volunteered at a local nursery school. She also had dreams of owning her own day-care center.
Gallo, 35, of Rotterdam, is accused of striking Boone while driving under the influence of drugs, and then fleeing the scene.
Jury selection in the case is to begin Monday, with the trial expected to last about 21⁄2 weeks.
In a court filing related to the truck, prosecutor Brian Gray wrote that he expected the case to center not on the truck, but on whether Gallo was under the influence of drugs.
Gallo allegedly admitted to police that he was the driver who struck and killed Boone and that he fled the scene afterward. He also admitted that to friends and family in recorded phone calls from the jail, according to the prosecution filing. Gallo has been incarcerated since his arrest the day after the accident.
Gallo, though, has denied being high at the time of the accident. According to an earlier pre-trial hearing, he told police that, while he had just come from his drug dealer at the time with drugs in hand, he was not high.
The drug allegations serve as the basis for the aggravated vehicular homicide charge against Gallo. If convicted, he faces up to 25 years in state prison.
The truck was destroyed on March 5, 2012, Pubic Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett confirmed Thursday.
Gray, the prosecutor, recounted the apparent sequence of events at a hearing this week.
Gray said Gallo’s father asked towing company Holmes and Kugler if the vehicle could be released. The towing company contacted city police Sgt. Patrick Morris, who approved release of the truck. When no one came to pick it up, it was destroyed.
Morris was involved in the accident reconstruction, Gray said later. Normally, evidence releases go through Detective Sgt. Sean Soloman, who then checks with the District Attorney’s Office, Gray said.
Before a piece of evidence is released, the District Attorney’s Office checks with the defense. Only then, if everyone agrees, evidence is released, Gray said.
Bennett said Thursday that he is trying to find out exactly what happened, whether it was an individual error or a policy error. He emphasized that it was no fault of the garage’s.
“It appears to have been a miscommunication between the detective handling the case and the traffic unit,” Bennett said.
Bennett emphasized that the truck had been completely processed by evidence technicians at that point. But, he said, “somebody dropped the ball here.”
Mansion took over Gallo’s case in January and asked to inspect the truck, then soon learned that it had been destroyed.
After reviewing the photo, he spotted unidentifiable discoloration on the truck’s hood and unidentified fibers, as well. The condition of the paint could not be inspected by him, Mansion argued.
At the time of the accident, Gallo had 10 suspensions on his driving record, police have said. The state Department of Motor Vehicles’ public record for Gallo includes suspensions from Rotterdam, Niskayuna, Albany and Greenwich for either failing to answer a summons or failing to pay fines.