Felony charge dropped for Thrashers star's plea

Updated: February 5, 2005, 7:42 PM ET
Associated Press

ATLANTA -- Atlanta Thrashers star Dany Heatley was sentenced Friday to three years of probation and must give 150 speeches about the dangers of speeding after pleading guilty in the death of teammate Dan Snyder in a car accident.

Dany Heatley
Heatley

In exchange for Heatley's plea, the only felony charge -- first-degree vehicular homicide -- was dropped, as was a charge of reckless driving.

"I'm sorry for what I did," Heatley said at the sentencing. "The mistake I made that night was speeding. This mistake will stay with me the rest of my life."

He pleaded guilty to second-degree vehicular homicide, driving too fast for conditions, failure to maintain a lane and speeding in connection with the Sept. 29, 2003, car crash in Atlanta that killed his 25-year-old teammate.

Snyder's father, Graham, and brother, Jake, both testified that they didn't want Heatley to go to jail or lose his hockey career. The judge took that into consideration.

"As a parent, it's hard to explain how you feel about losing your son. My pride in Dan was immeasurable," Graham Snyder said. "We will all miss him. So how do we move on from here? Forgiveness in our hearts has helped us move on. We forgive because Dany has shown remorse to his family."

"Dany has a burden that he will carry for the rest of his life," he added.

Jake Snyder said in a statement that Heatley was someone his brother counted on.

"I know he never intended for this to happen. I don't want to see my friend go to prison, I know Dan would feel the same way," Jake Snyder said.

Under terms of his probation, Heatley must give at least 50 public speeches each year about speeding -- nearly a speech a week. The speeches must be given at schools, colleges and public events attended by young people. He also cannot drive except for work and medical purposes or for going to the grocery store or to his speeches.

Judge Rowland Barnes also said the court will have to approve the kind of car Heatley drives. The car cannot have more than six cylinders and will have a mechanism to prevent it from exceeding 70 mph.

District attorney Paul Howard said he thinks Heatley's sentence is fair.

"This was a traffic-related incident," he said. "It was not an intentional incident."

Defense attorney Ed Garland said the families believe justice was served.

"Yes, he was speeding, and he accepts responsibility for that," Garland said.

The MVP of the 2003 NHL All-Star Game, Heatley was driving his Ferrari convertible on a curved road in a residential area when it ran into a brick pillar and iron fence. Authorities said Heatley had consumed some alcohol but was not intoxicated. Snyder, a passenger, died after several days in a coma.

Prosecutor Shondeana Crews said police experts found Heatley was driving at least 82 mph. Garland said one expert thought Heatley was driving only 55 mph. The speed limit was 35 mph. The judge said he noted the discrepancies when agreeing to the plea.

After Snyder's family spoke, the judge acknowledged their support for Heatley, though he added, "I don't know that I could do this if I were you." Even so, he imposed the sentence recommended by the state.

The state and defense did not have a binding agreement regarding what sentence Heatley would receive, leaving that issue up to the judge. Had Heatley not liked the sentence, he would not have been allowed to withdraw his guilty pleas.

If the case had gone to trial and Heatley had been convicted on all counts, the hockey star would have faced up to 20 years in prison and fines totaling $5,000. Defense lawyers believe the plea allows Heatley, a Canadian citizen, to avoid any threat of deportation, and therefore should not affect his ability to play in the NHL. Prosecutors, however, said there is no guarantee.

The players have been locked out this season, and the season is on the verge of cancellation. Heatley, who was born in Germany, was drafted by the Thrashers second overall in the 2000 NHL entry draft. He won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2001-02 season.

"We're very thankful to the legal community to allow Dany to remain with the Thrashers," Atlanta general manager Don Waddell said.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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