Antonio Vargas, 24, listens to testimony, Tuesday June 4, 2013, in Mays Landing, during his trial in the deadly 2011 crash outside Gregory's Bar. (The Press of Atlantic City/Staff Photo by Michael Ein)

Michael Ein

MAYS LANDING - When Michelle Irizarry arrived at the fatal crash site, the EMT saw Antonio Vargas hanging out the passenger side of his car, his left foot stuck under the crushed dashboard between the two seats.

When she filed her report afterward, she didn't say whether Vargas was the passenger in the car that had crashed into Gregory's Restaurant and Bar in Somers Point, but she testified Wednesday afternoon that she believes he was based on what she saw.

Irizarry was one of three witnesses the defense presented Wednesday after the prosecution closed its case in the criminal trial of Vargas, who faces eight counts, including aggravated manslaughter.

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The Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office says Vargas was driving, which is why he is facing charges for the accident that killed Kevin Botta on Jan. 6, 2011.

But defense attorney Lou Barbone highlighted a number of discrepancies in the reports filed about the accident that contradict whether Vargas was actually driving his car when it crashed into the Shore Road restaurant and bar.

Barbone first called Dr. Leo W. Burns, an emergency medical physician from Christiana Care in Delaware who examined the medical reports of Vargas's injuries at the request of the defense.

Burns testified that of the 15 major injuries Vargas sustained, including brain injuries that left him in a coma for weeks and caused amnesia, the majority of the blunt force trauma was to the right side of his body.

Burns also said there were a number of discrepancies in the various reports about who was the driver and who was the passenger.

Paramedics and EMTs from the Hammonton Rescue Squad, AtlantiCare and MidAtlantic MedEvac stated in reports that Vargas was either the passenger or at least stuck in the passenger side of the vehicle, hanging out the passenger side.

However, later reports from doctors referred to Vargas as the driver, as did police and the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office. The prosecution in the case believes the crash was so violent that the two men crisscrossed inside the vehicle.

The accident was actually called "catastrophic" in one of the reports, Barbone said, in which the roof was nearly sheared off and the Honda Civic was not even recognizable as a vehicle.

Irizarry was an EMT with the Hammonton Rescue Squad at that time, and responded from their station farther north on Shore Road. The squad formerly provided emergency medical service for Somers Point.

She testified that she heard a vehicle traveling very fast southbound on Shore Road past their office, and within a few minutes they were called to respond. She said she assumed that was the car she heard.

If that was the case, that may also prove important. Video surveillance at the Wawa on the corner of Shore Road and Maryland Avenue shows Vargas getting behind the wheel of his car that night, but then there was a several-minute gap between the car being spotted again at New York Avenue, to the south.

If Irizarry heard the car go by her office, which was north of Maryland Avenue, it means the two men traveled farther north, when Barbone has stated it was possible for them to switch seats.

When Irizarry and her partner arrived at the crash site, police were there first, and an AtlantiCare paramedic crew arrived at about the same time. One of the paramedics told her both people in the car were already dead, but Irizarry said she noticed Vargas try to take a breath as he was hanging out of the car.

The testimony she gave about Vargas's foot being stuck in between the two seats was not in her report, and when questioned by Assistant Prosecutor Diane Ruberton, she said that level of detail would not be expected.

Barbone asked Irizarry what her initial impression was that night, and what she believes now.

"That Mr. Vargas was the passenger," said the 34-year-old of Williamstown.

She also told Barbone that in the nearly two years between the accident and when she was contacted by Barbone's office in December, she was never questioned by police or the Prosecutor's Office about what she saw that night.

The third and final witness Wednesday was Somers Point Capt. Michael Sweeney, who testified that the former officer who made a report about the scene that night had been questioned several times about filing inaccurate reports.

Sweeney told Barbone that he felt the officer was making a conscious effort to lie to him. The officer is no longer with the department, and the department will not publicly release the police report because it is an ongoing investigation.

When Barbone tried to go into further depth about the history of the officer's employment, Ruberton objected on procedural grounds about the limits of cross-examination. Judge Max Baker agreed with her and Barbone ended his questioning.

The defense plans to call four more witnesses today. Baker said he expects closing arguments to take place Monday

Contact Lee Procida:


Follow Lee Procida on Twitter @ACPressLee

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