In the early morning hours of Dec. 28, 2007, former New York Yankee and World Series hero Jim Leyritz and a friend left a Florida drinking establishment after celebrating Leyritz’s 44th birthday with friends. A little after 3:00 a.m., and shortly after their departure, Leyritz was involved in an automobile accident with 30-year-old wife and mother Fredia Veitch, who was returning to her home after a night out with friends. The accident occurred in the middle of an intersection. Leyritz claimed that the traffic light was yellow when he went through. Veitch, who was not wearing a seat belt, was thrown from her vehicle and died at the scene.
Both Leyritz and Veitch reportedly had elevated blood alcohol levels. According to Beth Karas of In Session, Veitch’s blood alcohol level was 0.18, which is more than twice the legal limit in Florida. Leyritz’s blood alcohol level at the time of the crash remains a mystery because he refused the field breathalyzer test. Several experts testified that his blood alcohol level could have ranged from 0.14 to 0.19, using mathematical formulas based on the actual blood alcohol level that was obtained later that morning. Leyritz was subsequently charged with DUI vehicular manslaughter.
Since the accident, Leyritz has settled a civil lawsuit with Veitch’s family. He has also attended DUI education courses. He spent three months at home while his Florida driver’s license was temporarily suspended, and he has been subject to random and periodic breathalyzer tests. His car is equipped with a breathalyzer machine that prevents the car from starting if alcohol is detected.
At the center of the debate between state prosecutor Stephanie Newman and defense attorney David Bogenschutz was the fact that no one could definitely prove the color of the traffic lights at the time of the collision. Witnesses for the state testified that Veitch had the green light and Leyritz ran the red light and struck her. Leyritz’s passenger testified that the light was yellow for them. There was also much debate over the actual time of the accident. The judge, Marc H. Gold, was forced to reverse his earlier decision to suppress Veitch’s blood alcohol level after Newman brought it up in questioning. The result was reasonable doubt that Leyritz ran the red light.
The trial, which began earlier this month, came to a close on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, when the jury published its verdict. Leyritz was acquitted of DUI vehicular manslaughter, and instead found guilty of the lesser charge of DUI misdemeanor. The six-person panel deliberated for several hours over the course of three days before determining the verdict. Leyritz could still face six months in prison over this conviction, but he is currently released on bond. The actual sentencing date will be determined at a hearing in the beginning of December.