Felony charge dropped for Thrashers star's plea

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.

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

"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

"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