Friday, October 5, 2007

Isabelle Zehnder: CAICA NEWS: Aide sat on autistic teen, jury told

Aide sat on autistic teen, jury told
Opening statements are given in trial of Edwin Tirado in what his defense lawyer called a tragic accident

By ROBERT GAVIN, Staff writer
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First published: Thursday, October 4, 2007

ALBANY -- A state health aide "squeezed the life" out of an autistic boy during a winter field trip after his co-worker stopped their van outside a Colonie supermarket to argue over his bank account, a prosecutor charged Wednesday.
Edwin Tirado, 36, of Schenectady was "essentially sitting" on 13-year-old Jonathan Carey as the boy's legs flailed in the van, parked outside the Hannaford store on Wolf Road on Feb. 15, Assistant District Attorney David Rossi said.

The prosecutor, delivering opening remarks in Tirado's manslaughter trial in Albany County Court, told jurors the boy was trying to get out of his seat. A 16-year-old youth also was in the vehicle.

Rossi said Tirado and health aide trainee Nadeem Mall, 33, left the O.D. Heck Developmental Center in Niskayuna to visit Crossgates Mall for an outing that night, but never got there.

After Jonathan Carey appeared to calm down, the two aides went to a Hess gas station for beverages, then realized the child stopped breathing, the prosecutor said. But instead of getting help or returning to O.D. Heck, the pair tried to cover their tracks, Rossi told jurors.

He said Tirado and Mall, who left the facility at 6 p.m., decided to drive around until they were expected back at O.D. Heck at 8 p.m. They even stopped for a video game, dropping it off at one of their homes before returning to the facility, Rossi said.

The prosecutor said the two acted as if they just found the Carey boy unconscious, but their story unraveled when Colonie police interviewed them. Mall later pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and is serving a six-month jail sentence.

Rossi, who plans to call Mall as a key witness, said proof of manslaughter was "overwhelming."

Tirado's attorney, Brian Donohue, told jurors the health aide was exhausted from working double shifts on Feb. 15. He questioned the accuracy of statements police attribute to his client. He also said Carey should have been in a harness in the van and was not.

Donohue said Tirado intervened because Carey was attacking the 16-year-old youth inside the van.

"Ed Tirado had to do something," the lawyer said. He said Tirado considered the child a friend and vice versa.

"What this case is, ladies and gentlemen, is a tragic, tragic accident."

Multiple O.D. Heck staffers who took the stand Wednesday said Tirado got along well with residents of the facility, including Jonathan. The boy was under the care of Mall, who was not supposed to be driving, staffers said.

The child's mother, Lisa, the prosecution's first witness, explained how the family placed Jonathan at O.D. Heck after he suffered abuse at a Dutchess County facility, which caused him to suffer post-traumatic stress.

Her son later left O.D. Heck for a facility in Utica -- but returned because improper restraint techniques were being used, she said.

Meanwhile, acting Supreme Court Justice Dan Lamont heard arguments late Wednesday on whether the 16-year-old youth who was also in the van, who is mildly to moderately retarded, should testify. His psychologist at the facility, Eloise Potenza, testified that the boy is credible -- "to a certain extent." She said it could be "absolutely devastating" to him were he called to testify, she said.

"I don't know that he knows he has a choice," Potenza testified.

The trial continues today in Albany County Court.

Gavin can be reached at 434-2403 or by e-mail at rgavin@