NEW YORK (CBS 2) - Former New York Yankees World Series hero Jim Leyritz, once called “The King” on the field, was acquitted of manslaughter in a Florida drunk driving accident and is now trying to turn his life around.
Leyritz sat down with CBS 2′s Sam Ryan for an interview in which he talked about the accident, his time behind bars and getting a second chance to move forward with his life.
Last November, a Florida jury found Leyritz, 47, guilty of driving drunk in a Dec. 28, 2007 traffic crash that killed 30-year-old Fredia Ann Veitch, but acquitted him of the more serious charge of DUI manslaughter, which was punishable by up to 15 years in jail, if convicted.
“I left that bar, I had a drink and a shot, walked out that door, got in a car and that was my biggest mistake, 5 minutes later, life stopped,” Leyritz said.
Sam Ryan: How much responsibility do you take for your actions that night?
Jim Leyritz: Well, it’s drinking and driving, period. You know, it’s a situation where if I wouldn’t have had one drink that night and they wouldn’t have smelled alcohol in my breath, they probably would’ve been looking at me, saying ‘Mr. Leyritz, are you okay.’
Leyritz was sentenced to a year of probation and fined $500 for a Florida drunk driving conviction. He also settled a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Veitch’s family for $350,000. Leyrtiz did spend some time in jail awaiting trial in the DUI case.
Ryan: You spent some time behind bars, how do you describe the ordeal of incarceration?
Leyritz: I can’t describe it. It’s just like if someone says ‘you’re a survivor of cancer, how’d you do it?’ It’s a situation that you really can’t describe, until you go through it. To just be treated with no rights, is very difficult and you know, you just never know when you’re going home.
Ryan also asked Leyritz about his relationship with alcohol today.
Leyritz: Well, I’ve never had a problem. I’ve never been in rehab; I’ve never been an alcoholic. I made a mistake that night — I had a few drinks and I got behind the wheel of a car. Unfortunately, the accident that I was involved in brought that to light. That’s one thing that I hope anybody learns through this is, you know if you’re going to go out and have a couple drinks, get a car. Whether it’s one or twenty, whether you think you’re okay or not, you just never know what might happen.
Today, Leyritz is getting a second chance as a pitching coach for the Newark Bears — an opportunity he is not taking for granted.
Leyritz: It’s about starting over, but I think more importantly, is the message I can give some of these kids that are going to try to pursue their dreams — to never give up, to always fight for what they believe in and just make the right decisions. Because when you make the wrong ones, there can be serious consequences.
Leyritz played 11 major league seasons and is remembered for a dramatic 1996 home run that helped the Yankees win the championship.