Jim Leyritz gets probation, fine

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Former New York Yankees World Series hero Jim Leyritz was sentenced Thursday to one year's probation and fined $500 for a drunken driving conviction, a far lesser penalty than he had faced before a jury decided he wasn't responsible for a woman's death in a 2007 traffic crash.

Circuit Judge Marc Gold imposed the sentence for the misdemeanor on the 47-year-old former ballplayer, who was acquitted last month of DUI manslaughter in the death of 30-year-old Fredia Ann Veitch. Leyritz could have gotten up to 15 years if convicted of manslaughter, but he said Thursday it was no victory.

"I said it from the very beginning, there would be no winners in this case," Leyritz said in a tearful statement to the judge. "This was a horrible, horrible tragedy."

Leyritz could have gotten up to six months in jail for the DUI, but his attorney David Bogenschutz said that was far too severe for a first offense DUI.

"He is a first offender, plain and simple," Bogenschutz said, adding that the sentence should be the same "whether it be Jim Leyritz or Jim Smith."

Prosecutor Stefanie Newman wanted a four-month jail term for what she called Leyritz's "air of entitlement" as a former professional athlete and because he had several violations while out on bail of a vehicle interlock device that detects alcohol on a driver's breath.

"He acted with reckless disregard," Newman said of the 2007 crash. "He put the public at risk. He put himself at risk."

Gold noted that Leyritz had completed two alcohol treatment programs but warned him not to violate probation or the law again.

"If you violate probation, I will give you the maximum jail sentence," Gold said.

Jurors decided that Leyritz did not run a red light and cause the crash, and evidence showed it was Veitch who likely ran the light. Veitch was also driving drunk before the crash and was thrown from her vehicle because she was not wearing a seat belt, according to court documents.

But the jury found that Leyritz was driving with a blood alcohol level above Florida's 0.08 limit and convicted him Nov. 20 of the lesser charge. A blood sample taken three hours after the crash showed Leyritz had a blood-alcohol level of 0.14; a state expert testified it could have been as high as 0.19 when the crash happened about 3 a.m. on Dec. 28, 2007.

A state toxicologist said Leyritz downed the equivalent of 11 to 12 shots of liquor.

Veitch's husband, Jordan Veitch, said he hoped the case would deter people from deciding to drink and drive.

"Making the decision to get behind the wheel while intoxicated is selfish and irresponsible and shows a lack of respect for the lives of others as well as yourself," Veitch said in a prepared statement.

Leyritz settled a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Veitch's family for $350,000, with $250,000 covered by insurance and the rest to be paid beginning in April 2011 out of his own pocket. Leyritz, a divorced father of three boys, had been out celebrating his birthday at local bars before the crash.

Leyritz played 11 major league seasons -- primarily as a catcher and mostly with the Yankees -- and is best remembered for a dramatic 1996 home run that helped the Yankees win the championship that year. He also played with the Angels, Rangers, Red Sox, Padres and Dodgers, with 90 career homers and a .264 average.