Leyritz insists fatal accident not his fault

Updated: November 3, 2009, 9:06 PM ET
By David Picker | E:60

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Two months before his trial for DUI manslaughter begins, former New York Yankee Jim Leyritz offered several reasons why a two-car accident in which one person died was not his fault.

"I wasn't doing anything that I thought was against the rules, whether it be the drinking part or the actual driving part," Leyritz told E:60's Jeremy Schaap during his first in-depth television interview since the accident, which happened nearly two years ago.

In the interview, the 45-year-old Leyritz put blame on Fredia Veitch, the driver of an SUV who died in the accident. Leyritz has pleaded not guilty to the charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

Shortly after 3 a.m. on Dec. 28, 2007, Leyritz was driving northbound in an SUV when, in the middle of an intersection near downtown Fort Lauderdale, he collided with an SUV headed westbound. Veitch was killed.

[+] EnlargeJim Leyritz
Larry Marano/Getty ImagesJim Leyritz leaves a hearing with his lawyers at the Broward County Court last January in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"There are records that will show that there was text messages and phone calls coming in at that time that could've distracted her," said Leyritz, who noted that he was speaking against the advice of his attorney, David Bogenschutz.

Veitch, a mother of two, was thrown from her vehicle. Experts determined she was not wearing a seatbelt. "The fact that I had my seatbelt on is the reason I'm here," Leyritz said. "The fact that she didn't is the reason she's not."

Leyritz maintained that he was driving responsibly at the time of the accident and that he did not run a red light, as one witness stated. Leyritz added that the light was yellow as he approached and entered the intersection.

Asked if he was intoxicated at the time of the accident, Leyritz said: "No." However, he admitted that he had consumed alcohol in the hours before the accident, when he was celebrating his 44th birthday with friends.

Tested about three hours after the accident, Leyritz's blood-alcohol level was .14; Veitch's blood-alcohol level was .18. Both were over Florida's legal limit of .08. But Leyritz said the results of his blood test might not have been accurate.

"I believe that [the] blood has been retested, and there are some problems with that," Leyritz said. "And that's what my attorney, Mr. Bogenschutz, is handling."

"E:60" spoke with Leyritz several times during the past 10 days. While Bogenschutz was not present at any of the interviews and did not comment when contacted for this story, Leyritz's comments might provide a glimpse into how the attorney will defend him during the trial.

"It was not my fault," Leyritz said of the accident.

Leyritz, a catcher who earned nearly $11 million during an 11-year career with six major-league teams, secured a place in Yankees lore during the 1996 World Series. With the Yankees down two games to one, and trailing the Atlanta Braves 6-3 in the eighth inning of Game 4, he hit a three-run home run off Mark Wohlers to tie the score. The Yankees went on to win the game, the series and four world championships in five seasons.

Since the accident, Leyritz has been regarded as a pariah by many people in the Yankees family, though he said he regularly exchanges text messages with manager Joe Girardi. He added that he was looking forward to clearing his name in court and being welcomed back by his former team. But even then, Leyritz said he would not be able to shed his past.

"Could this have been avoided? Could this not have been avoided?" he asked, referring to the accident. "You go through all those emotions. And you know what, even when this is all, when everything's done, I still have to wake up every day knowing that something I was involved in, there was somebody that died from it. That's not an easy thing to deal with."

David Picker is a producer for E:60.

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