For fatal car crash, is he a murderer?

Published September 17, 2006

MINEOLA, N.Y. - His blood-alcohol level was sky high, prosecutors say, when Martin Heidgen climbed into his pickup, drove the wrong way down a highway and plowed into a wedding limousine.

The 7-year-old flower girl was decapitated, the chauffeur was also killed, and several of the little girl's relatives were injured.

Horrifying? Yes.

But is it murder?

Prosecutors are pressing for a murder conviction because they say Heidgen drove so recklessly that night. They say he swerved slightly toward the oncoming limousine moments before the head-on wreck in a self-destructive pique.

Heidgen's trial began Monday with the family of flower girl Kate Flynn recalling last summer's crash in excruciating detail.

The statements were so gruesome that the judge decided to limit prosecution testimony about the decapitation to avoid prejudicing jurors against Heidgen. But on Friday, acting state Supreme Court Judge Alan Honorof let prosecutors show them the two wrecked vehicles.

The black Lincoln stretch limousine - its entire front end obliterated, with the radiator one of the only identifiable engine pieces - was placed side-by-side with Heidgen's crunched-in Chevrolet Silverado.

Heidgen's attorney, Stephen LaMagna, said his client is remorseful and takes responsibility for the accident. But, he said, "the evidence will show this is not a case of murder, and this young man is not a murderer." He said Heidgen had recently moved to Long Island from Little Rock, Ark., and was unfamiliar with the parkway.

Legal observers say it may be tough to prove Heidgen had a "depraved indifference to human life" because prosecutors will have to show jurors what he was thinking and saying.

Heidgen, 25, of Valley Stream, is charged with two counts of second-degree murder, as well as assault, reckless endangerment and driving while intoxicated on the Meadowbrook Parkway on July 2, 2005. He is being held without bail.

Kate and limousine driver Stanley Rabinowitz, 59, were killed. Five other family members were injured.

Prosecutors said Heidgen had a blood-alcohol reading of 0.28 - more than triple the legal limit - and may have been trying to commit suicide, a contention his lawyer denies.

"Katie Flynn really stands as the most glaring example of why our laws have to protect us better, and I am going to do everything I can to make sure that there is never an incident like this again," Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said.