DA may decide crash was accident

Updated: October 14, 2003, 7:07 PM ET
Associated Press

ATLANTA -- Atlanta Thrashers star Dany Heatley probably won't spend a day in jail for the car wreck that led to the death of teammate Dan Snyder, some legal experts say.

Dany Heatley

Because Heatley wasn't drunk and Snyder's relatives say they forgive him, prosecutors could decide the car crash was just an accident, with no need to pursue felony charges and sentences ranging from three to 15 years.

"I am deeply saddened and very sorry over the loss of my close friend and teammate, Dan Snyder," Heatley said in a statement released Tuesday. "At this time, my focus is on the Snyder family and my rehabilitation from the injuries that I sustained in the accident."

"If the family says that they do not want to press charges, and if there are no drugs or alcohol involved, there's a good chance that the state will not prosecute or that they will work out some sort of plea agreement," Camilla Watson, a criminal law professor at the University of Georgia, said Monday.

Snyder was riding in Heatley's Ferrari when it spun out of control on a narrow road in Atlanta and slammed into a wall Sept. 29. He died six days later, and Heatley was charged with felony vehicular homicide.

Heatley, free on $50,000 bond, also faces four misdemeanors.

"After we complete the investigation, we will make a decision on what charges, if any, to present to the grand jury," said Erik Friedly, a spokesman for the district attorney. "There's always a possibility that during the investigation it can be determined that charges aren't appropriate."

It's unknown exactly how fast Heatley was driving, what caused the accident or if there was a defect in the road or car, said Heatley's attorney, Don Samuel. He said reports that put Heatley's speed at 80 mph are "unreliable."

"I don't know that any sentence at all is appropriate because it isn't determined that he committed any crime," Samuel said. "It's too early to predict what the final outcome would be."

Test results showed Heatley consumed a small amount of alcohol before the crash. His blood alcohol content was 0.015, far below the state's legal limit of 0.08.

Heatley, last season's All-Star MVP, was injured in the crash and is out indefinitely. He broke his jaw and tore two ligaments in his knee.

As Snyder was buried Friday in his hometown of Elmira, Ontario, his parents said they don't blame Heatley for his death.

Those factors could contribute to a decision to let Heatley off the hook or for prosecutors to grant a plea agreement with a sentence of community service, said Robert Pugsley, a criminal law professor at Southwestern University in Los Angeles.

"This may be treated as an accident, and I would not be surprised if the district attorney did not proceed," he said. "It's a really tough call, and it depends on the district attorney's determination of if famous people need to be reined in or are getting away with too much."

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press