FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. â€” The passenger in a sport utility vehicle driven by former major league ballplayer Jim Leyritz testified Monday that he never saw a traffic light turn red seconds before their SUV crashed into a second vehicle and killed a woman.
Testifying in Leyritz’s DUI manslaughter trial, Bruce Barger told a jury that he assumed the light turned red but that he did not actually witness it change colour as they drove into an intersection in December 2007. That appeared to conflict with a statement Barger gave police in January 2008, when he said the light did turn red.
“Do I remember seeing it red? No,” said Barger, who now lives in Pittsburgh. “Can I assume it was red at some point? Yeah, I can say that.”
Barger initially testified last week but was recalled Monday by prosecutors so they could ask additional questions about his differing statements. Whether Leyritz ran a red light is key to the case. If jurors believe he did not, they may decide the crash was not his fault â€” even if he was drunk at the time.
Barger, who was 20 years old at the time and had met Leyritz that night, testified that he saw Leyritz reach down for something as they neared the intersection. He testified that he yelled, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” moments before the two vehicles collided shortly after 3 a.m. Dec. 28, 2007.
“It was yellow when you were in the intersection, wasn’t it?” asked Leyritz lawyer David Bogenschutz.
“Yes,” Barger replied.
Leyritz, 46, faces between four and 15 years in prison if convicted in the death of 30-year-old Fredia Ann Veitch, a mother of two. Prosecutors said Leyritz had a blood-alcohol level of 0.18 per cent at the time of the crash, above Florida’s 0.08 per cent legal limit.
Last week, jurors learned that Veitch also had a blood-alcohol level that was more than twice the Florida limit. A witness who went out with Veitch that night testified that she had two shots of tequila and about three other drinks in his presence, but that she may have had additional drinks.
Another prosecution witness who was walking near the intersection the night of the crash insisted that Veitch had the green light. But under cross-examination, the witness said he looked up at the light only after hearing the screech of tires and impact of the crash.
Leyritz, mainly a catcher during 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 that helped send the team to its first title in 18 years. Leyritz also played for the Angels, Rangers, Red Sox, Padres and Dodgers.
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