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Trial set for ex-baseball star accused of drunken driving, killing woman

By the CNN Wire Staff
Former Yankees slugger Jim Leyritz faces at least four years in prison if convicted on DUI manslaughter charges.
Former Yankees slugger Jim Leyritz faces at least four years in prison if convicted on DUI manslaughter charges.
  • Opening statements are next week in the vehicular manslaughter trial of Jim Leyritz
  • Leyritz is a well-known former professional baseball player and sports commentator
  • He is accused of a running a red light while drunk, hitting and killing a woman in Florida
  • Leyritz claims the light was yellow, and he could not have prevented the crash

(CNN) -- His past largely defined by his World Series heroics, Jim Leyritz's future is now in the hands of a Florida jury that could send him to prison for up to 15 years for hitting and killing a woman while allegedly driving drunk.

Opening statements begin Monday in the trial of the former baseball star, who is charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter while driving drunk in a 2007 wreck. A jury of five men and one woman, plus two alternates, has been seated in the case.

According to court documents, the incident began as a nighttime celebration for Leyritz, who was ringing in his 44th birthday with friends by bar-hopping in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

While driving a friend home shortly after 3 a.m. ET on December 28, 2007, his red 2006 Ford Expedition hit the vehicle of 30-year-old Freida Veitch, a Fort Lauderdale police report stated. She was thrown from her dark green 2000 Mitsubishi Montero, knocked unconscious and pronounced dead at 4:08 a.m.

Blood drawn from Leyritz three hours later showed he had 0.14 percent blood alcohol level, above the 0.08 benchmark in Florida. He also failed field sobriety tests, according to police.

Veitch was also legally drunk with a 0.18 blood alcohol level and was not wearing her seat belt, according to court documents. In pre-trial court actions, questions have also been raised as to whether Veitch was distracted by calls and texts on her cell phone, how fast she was driving and if her headlights were on.

Still, beyond determining if he was legally intoxicated, Leyritz's fate may be most tied to one key question: whether the light he went through, prior to hitting Veitch, was red or yellow.

Based on court documents, defense attorneys are also expected to argue that Veitch was to blame for the accident and there's little to nothing Leyritz could have done, sober or not.

Leyritz and his passenger, Bruce Barger -- a 19-year-old who was with the former baseball star from midnight on and who was getting a ride home -- claim the light was yellow and turned red while Leyritz's SUV was in the intersection, court documents state. But a pedestrian at the scene, Garth Henry, said it was red even before Leyritz drove through.

Leyritz played eleven years in the major leagues, including all or parts of eight seasons with the New York Yankees. His career highlight came in 1996, when he hit a winning home run in Game 4 of the World Series. He also hit pivotal homers during the 1995, 1998 and 1999 postseasons.

He remained in the limelight after his career ended in 2000, appearing on national and New York-based radio programs. An outspoken character during and after a career, Leyritz admitted that he'd used amphetamines in his playing days.

After his arrest, the twice-divorced Leyritz told In Session that he lost his job as a sports commentator and an endorsement deal, leaving him to rely on loans from friends and reporters.

If convicted, under Florida law, Leyritz faces a minimum of four years and a maximum of 15 years in state prison.

In Session's Beth Karas and Grace Wong contributed to this report.