[NHL] Leaf Bell blew 2.5 times legal limit

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Leaf Bell blew 2.5 times legal limit

Legal problems aren't over despite guilty plea; injured man sues player

Aug 16, 2007 04:30 AM

Kevin McGran


Just about a year ago, Mark Bell made a few very bad choices on the outskirts of San Jose: He drank too much, drove too fast, rear-ended a pickup truck, and walked away from the scene.

Now Bell ? traded to the Leafs where he hopes for a new beginning ? finds that horrible night following himHis first real introduction to Leaf fans is news that he will serve six months in jail after the 2007-08 season after pleading no contest to driving under the influence of alcohol, and a charge of hit-and-run. Bell hit another car so hard, he knocked it 15 metres up a steep hill and wrapped it around a telephone poll, leaving the uninsured driver with multiple head, back and leg injuries.

Witnesses said Bell reeked of alcohol. He blew .201 in a breathalyzer test about a half-hour after the accident, and a blood test revealed a blood-alcohol level of 0.15. The legal limit was 0.08.

He must also pay restitution ? the medical bills, the cost of the car he totalled ? to victim Jose Luis Villafana before he's formally sentenced. He'll be back in court Oct. 22 to prove he's made restitution before a sentencing date can be set.

"We're trying to hold people accountable, reimburse the victim, send a message to the defendant to have him pay his debt to society," Santa Clara deputy district attorney Cindy Seeley Hendrickson told the Star.

Bell could not be reached for an interview, but the Leafs last night issued statements from Bell and from general manager John Ferguson Jr.

"I am deeply sorry for the hurt that I have caused to others and for the way in which my actions reflected upon the San Jose Sharks, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and upon myself," Bell said. "I accept my punishment as handed down by the court.

"I look forward to fulfilling my obligations, and in moving on with my life in a positive manner."

Ferguson said the Leafs were well aware of Bell's legal problems when they acquired him, along with goalie Vesa Toskala, from San Jose in June.

"Mark has accepted responsibility for his actions, and the Leafs organization will support Mark through this challenging time," said Ferguson.

Seeley Hendrickson said having Bell serve his prison time in the off-season is not a case of offering favourable treatment to pro athletes. She said it's common for many convicted felons to serve their time at night and weekends so as not to lose their jobs.

"This is an accommodation, but it is one that would be afforded to any defendant." said Seeley Hendrickson, citing Bell's otherwise clean driving record. "He got exactly the same sentence anybody in the same situation would have."

Bell's problems won't end with his sentence, which could be commuted to four months for good behaviour. Bell also faces a lawsuit from Villafana, seeking "unlimited" damages.

"It's very early in the proceedings and we intend to pursue it all the way through," Villafana lawyer Samuel Samaniego told the Star yesterday. "We've sued in Superior Court for unlimited. Basically that means we're going to be going for everything."

According to the police report, Bell wasn't injured that night, but Villafana suffered multiple cuts to his head and face, swelling in his left foot, pain in both knees, chest pain while breathing and back pain all over. He missed work. He didn't have a driver's license nor did he have insurance.

"He's still experiencing pain," Samaniego said of Villafana. "He's experiencing some memory loss. He doesn't seem to retain attention, stay focused. He's having some problems with persistent pain in the ankle, he's easily distracted, can't remember things, finds himself in places and doesn't realize what's happening."

By all accounts, the accident scene was horrific. Bell's rented Camry hit Villafana's pickup truck at a stop sign a little after 1 a.m. on Sept. 4, 2006, in Milpitas, Calif., a town in the San Jose foothills.

"The defendant hit him so hard, maybe going 60 or 70 miles an hour, it shot the victim maybe 50 feet over to the right, wrapped him around a pole; the car was totalled," said Seeley Hendrickson. "The defendant's car would have gone 95 feet, 40 up a steep hill. The front end was totalled.

"It's just amazing nobody was killed."

The 26-year-old native of St. Paul, Ont., had 11 goals and 10 assists in 71 games last year with the Sharks.

Some of Bell's new teammates, working out yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena, seem ready to cut him a fair bit of slack.

"I'm sure he knows what he did wrong and has to deal with it. But our whole team will support him. He's a teammate. We want to make him feel welcome here," said centre Matt Stajan.

Source: The Toronto Star

What peeves me about this situation is that he serves his jail time after the 2007-08 season... what kind of crap is that? Why is it that sports players are treated above the law. This kind of thing makes me :xck. :x

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It was a negotiated part of his no contest plea. If he had plead not-guilty and tried to fight it then he would have had no input into his sentence. I don't see why a non-celebrity couldn't do this themselves.

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