Dany Heatley avoids jail time

National Hockey League forward Dany Heatley on Friday pleaded guilty to four of six charges in the vehicular homicide case against him and was sentenced to three years probation.

In exchange for the plea, the only felony charge – first-degree vehicular homicide – was dropped along with a charge of reckless driving.

In addition, the Atlanta Thrasher must deliver 150 speeches about the dangers of speeding and cannot drive except for work, medical purposes, going to the grocery store or for attending his speeches.

A Calgary native, Heatley did avoid possible deportation, so his ability to play in the NHL shouldn't be affected.

"The mistake I made that night was speeding," Heatley said at his sentencing. "This mistake will stay with me the rest of my life."

Heatley was also charged with second-degree vehicular homicide, driving too fast for condition, failure to maintain a lane and speeding in connection with the Sept. 29, 2003, car crash that killed teammate and friend Dan Snyder of Elmira, Ont.

Heatley would have faced up to 20 years in prison and fines totalling $5,000 US if the case had gone to trial and he was convicted on all counts.

In sentencing Heatley, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Roland Barnes said the court will have to approve the type of car Heatley drives. The vehicle can't exceed six cylinders and will be equipped with a mechanism to prevent it from exceeding 112 kilometres per hour.

Lawyers for the NHL all-star had spent the past few months trying to negotiate a plea bargain.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard was satisfied with the sentence.

"This was a traffic-related incident. It was not an intentional incident," said Howard, adding Heatley and Snyder's friendship was a factor in the handling of the case.

The 24-year-old Heatley returned to Atlanta Monday from Switzerland, where he is playing during the NHL lockout.

In late September 2003, Heatley drove his Ferrari approximately 130 km/h down a narrow, two-lane Atlanta road when he spun out of control and smashed into a brick and wrought-iron fence.

Snyder was ejected from the vehicle and suffered a fractured skull. He underwent two hours of emergency brain surgery but never emerged from his coma.

Snyder, 25, died Oct. 5, 2003, from massive head trauma sustained in the high-speed accident.

Heatley suffered a broken jaw, a minor concussion, a bruised lung and kidney. He also had surgery to repair torn medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments as well as the lateral meniscus in his right knee.

Snyder's family didn't want Heatley to go to jail, something Barnes took into consideration in the sentencing.

"As a parent, it's hard to explain how you feel about losing your son. My pride in Dan was immeasurable," said Graham Snyder, adding he wanted Heatley to continue his NHL career. "We will all miss him.

"So how do we move on from here? Forgiveness in our hearts has helped us move on. We forgive because Dany has shown remorse to his family."

Heatley, a former Calder Trophy winner as NHL rookie of the year, led Canada to gold medals at the world hockey championship and World Cup of Hockey in 2004.