Admits He Was Drinking, But Still Maintains He Did Not Cause Brutal Wreck

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — He was a baseball player who helped the Yankees’ resurgence back in the 1990s. But he became as well known for a tragic accident long after he left the field.

Now, Jim Leyritz is rebuilding his life and using what he’s been through to help others, CBS 2’s Maurice DuBois reports.

Leyritz said recently he takes nothing for granted. The troubled former Yankee is continuing to  struggle to make sense of his life’s tragic turn.

“You thank God every morning that you have the ability to have another day on Earth,” Leyritz said. “Why am I involved in this and what lesson is to be learned?”

It turns out, a big one for the once baseball powerhouse whose fall from grace was both public and painful.

“I think the thing that haunts me is that someone lost their life,” Leyritz said.

It happened in December 2007. Leyritz got behind the wheel of his SUV after his birthday celebration. He had been drinking.

“It’s something that I would never, ever do again,” Leyritz said.

Heading home, he struck a car driven by Frieda Ann Veitch, a mother of two young children. Police said he ran a red light.

“When I heard that … sheer panic. I was like no, no, no. That’s not what happened,” Leyritz said.

Leyritz claims the light was yellow.

“There was no reason for a car to come through that intersection at that speed at that time,” Leyritz said.

As he barreled through the intersection, he slammed into Veitch’s car. It flipped over. She was ejected from the vehicle and later died at a hospital.

Leyritz refused to take a Breathalyzer test. Police, instead, gave him a field sobriety test. He was arrested for drunk driving and manslaughter

Now, four years later, he admits what he did was wrong, but still refuses to accept all the blame.

“Yes, I was guilty of drinking and driving that night, but I did not cause this accident,” Leyritz said.

During the trial, lawyers revealed a stunning twist in the case that the victim, herself, was also driving drunk.

“The responsibility wasn’t mine. At the same time, the results were terrible,” Leyritz said.

In the end, the jury acquitted him of the more serious manslaughter charge, but found him guilty of DUI.

“If I could change that I would,” Leyritz said.

To the outrage of many, he was sentenced to time served plus community service and a year of probation, but his supporters thought he deserved a second chance and Leyritz said he intends to do something with it.

“This isn’t about me anymore. This about contributing and making other people’s lives more enriched,” Leyritz said.

Leyritz had faced up to 15 years in prison if he was convicted of the manslaughter charge.

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