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Former Yankees slugger faces trial in deadly DUI wreck

By Beth Karas, In Session
Former Yankees slugger Jim Leyritz, a hero of the 1996 World Series, is being tried on charges of DUI manslaughter.
Former Yankees slugger Jim Leyritz, a hero of the 1996 World Series, is being tried on charges of DUI manslaughter.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Former Yankees slugger Jim Leyritz goes on trial in a fatal 2007 DUI crash
  • Leyritz is accused of running a light and killing Fredia Veitch, 30
  • Veitch also was driving while intoxicated, but the jury can't consider that
  • Leyritz is famous for his three-run homer in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series

Fort Lauderdale, Florida (CNN) -- The DUI manslaughter trial of former New York Yankees slugger Jim Leyritz is set to begin Monday in Broward County Circuit Court.

Leyritz is charged with driving while intoxicated and causing a crash that killed 30-year-old Fredia Veitch on December 28, 2007. The fatal crash happened shortly after 3 a.m. at an intersection controlled by traffic lights.

Leyritz, a hero of the 1996 World Series, had turned 44 the previous day and had spent the evening celebrating at bars in Fort Lauderdale. He had been at a bar called Automatic Slims just before the accident.

Attorneys in the case expect witnesses to disagree about whether Leyritz had a yellow or red light as he entered the intersection of S.W. 7th Avenue and S.W. 2nd Street. The front of Leyritz's Ford Expedition hit the rear driver's side of Veitch's Mitsubishi Montero, causing her car to spin and roll.

Veitch, who lived in Plantation, was thrown from the car and died from her injuries.

Leyritz stayed at the scene, where police administered and videotaped field sobriety tests. Police allege the former ballplayer failed the tests; his defense maintains Leyritz was not impaired at the time.

More than three hours after the crash, Leyritz's blood was drawn at Broward General Hospital. His blood alcohol level was .14; the legal limit in Florida is .08.

Both sides agree that Veitch was intoxicated at the time of the crash. Her blood alcohol was .18 and she was not wearing a seat belt. The defense also says that Veitch was driving without headlights and receiving calls and text messages on her cell phone around the time of the accident.

A judge ruled last month that Veitch's conduct and state of mind are not relevant to the issue of whether she had a red or green light. Leyritz's attorney is barred from telling the jury that Veitch was intoxicated, that she did not wear her seat belt and that she may have been distracted by calls and texts on her cell phone.

Leyritz maintains that he entered the intersection when his traffic light was yellow and that Veitch caused the crash by running a red light.

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Under Florida law, if Leyritz caused or contributed to the accident, he can be found guilty of DUI manslaughter, even if jurors believe Veitch shares the blame.

He pleaded not guilty and if convicted, the former New York Yankee faces a minimum of four to 15 years in state prison.

Leyritz settled a wrongful death case earlier this year, agreeing to pay an initial lump sum of $250,000. He also agreed to pay $1,000 a month for 100 months starting on April 15, 2011. The money is to be paid to Veitch's husband and two children.

Leyritz played for the New York Yankees from 1990 to 1996 and returned for parts of the 1999 and 2000 seasons. He is best known for a three-run home run in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series against the Atlanta Braves, which turned the Series around for the Yankees.

Leyritz also played for the Anaheim Angels, Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox, San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers. He was mainly a catcher throughout his career.

He retired from professional baseball in 2000. Now divorced, Leyritz lives in Florida, where he is raising his three sons.

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