FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A key witness in the DUI manslaughter case against former major league baseball player Jim Leyritz testified Monday that a vehicle driven by a woman killed in the 2007 crash had the green light moments before Leyritz’s sports-utility vehicle barreled into the intersection.
Garth Henry, at the time a bouncer at a local bar, said he was walking toward the intersection just before the crash at 3:19 a.m. on Dec. 28, 2007. The victim, 30-year-old Fredia Ann Veitch, was in a dark green Mitsubishi Montero, while Leyritz was in a red Ford Expedition.
“He was trying to catch a yellow light he wasn’t going to make. She didn’t have to stop because it was green,” Henry said on the opening day of testimony in Leyritz’s trial. “His car hit the left hand (side) of hers. It flipped around a couple of times and slammed into the pole.”
Yet under questioning from Leyritz attorney David Bogenschutz, Henry indicated he looked up at the intersection when he heard tires screeching seconds before the crash and not before — suggesting he didn’t see the light change sequence.
“The first thing that directed your attention to that intersection was the screeching of the tires, correct?” Bogenschutz asked.
“Yes, sir,” Henry replied. But then a little later, Henry said: “I was facing that way. It was nighttime. I was looking at the light.”
Earlier, prosecutor Stefanie Newman said Leyritz had a blood-alcohol level of 0.18 when the crash occurred — more than twice Florida’s legal limit of 0.08 — after drinking to celebrate his birthday. Newman told jurors in an opening statement that a toxicology expert estimated Leyritz’s blood-alcohol content based on a test taken about three hours later that found a 0.14 level.
A vitamin water bottle in Leyritz’s sports-utility vehicle tested positive for alcohol and it also contained Leyritz’s DNA, Newman said. A police video shows Leyritz had difficulties with a field sobriety test even though he was not “falling-down drunk,” she said.
“Pay close attention to that video: what you will see is a man who is being given instructions and can’t follow those instructions,” Newman told jurors.
Leyritz, 46, faces between four and 15 years in prison if convicted in the death of Veitch, a mother of two who was thrown from her vehicle by the force of the crash. Leyritz has been free on bail since his arrest, and the three-year span between the crash and the trial is partly because of defense efforts to build a case.
Leyritz, primarily a catcher in an 11-season big league career, is best remembered for hitting a dramatic home run for the New York Yankees in the 1996 World Series. The homer tied Game 4 of the World Series against Atlanta, a game New York would go on to win in extra innings. Their subsequent title that year was their first in 18 years.
The state’s first witness was Fort Lauderdale police Detective Orlando Almanzar, who was an officer on road patrol the night of the crash. Almanzar said he noticed a “slight” odor of alcohol on Leyritz’s breath as well as bloodshot eyes, but under cross examination said Leyritz didn’t seem unduly impaired.
“He didn’t appear like other people you have arrested, did he?” Bogenschutz asked.
“He was talking OK,” Almanzar said.
“No slurring words, no stumbling?” asked Bogenschutz.
“No,” the detective said.
Leyritz, who last played in the major leagues in 2000, sat quietly at the defense table taking notes.
The trial is expected to last about four weeks and as many as 44 witnesses could testify.
The judge has barred Leyritz from introducing evidence that Veitch, who had worked as a bartender, was also drunk at the time of the crash and was not wearing a seat belt. Prosecutors say that evidence had no bearing on whether Leyritz ran the red light.
In May, Leyritz settled a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Veitch’s family for $250,000 in insurance and $1,000 in monthly payments out of his own pocket for 100 months.
Leyritz also played for the Angels, Rangers, Red Sox, Padres and Dodgers. He had a career batting average of .264 and hit 90 home runs.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.