FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Former major league baseball player Jim Leyritz had a blood-alcohol level more than twice Florida's legal limit when he ran a red light after a night of drinking and crashed into a woman's vehicle, killing her, a prosecutor said Monday as testimony began in Leyritz's DUI manslaughter trial.
Stefanie Newman, an assistant state attorney, told a jury that a toxicology expert estimated Leyritz's blood-alcohol level at the time of the December 2007 crash was 0.18, based on a blood test taken about three hours later that found a 0.14 level. Florida's legal limit is 0.08.
A vitamin water bottle found in Leyritz's sports-utility vehicle tested positive for alcohol and it also contained Leyritz's DNA, Newman said in an opening statement. She added that a police video shows Leyritz had difficulties with a field sobriety test even though he was not "falling-down drunk."
"Pay close attention to that video: what you will see is a man who is being given instructions and can't follow those instructions," Newman told jurors.
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 who was thrown from her vehicle by the force of the rollover crash. Leyritz attorney David Bogenschutz said he will give an opening statement later in the trial.
Leyritz, primarily a catcher in 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. The homer tied Game 4 of the World Series against Atlanta, a game New York would go on to win in extra innings. Their subsequent title that year was their first in 18 years.
The state's first witness was Fort Lauderdale police Detective Orlando Almanzar, who was an officer on road patrol the night of the crash. Almanzar said he noticed a "slight" odor of alcohol on Leyritz's breath as well as bloodshot eyes, but under cross examination said Leyritz didn't seem unduly impaired.
"He didn't appear like other people you have arrested, did he?" Bogenschutz asked.
"He was talking OK," Almanzar said.
"No slurring words, no stumbling?" asked Bogenschutz.
"No," the detective said.
Leyritz, who last played in the major leagues in 2000, sat quietly at the defense table taking notes. He wore a dark gray suit, white shirt and blue tie.
The trial is expected to last about four weeks and as many as 44 witnesses could testify. Two of those witnesses say Leyritz did run the red light, including a man who was riding in Leyritz's red Ford Expedition.
The judge has barred Leyritz from introducing evidence that Veitch, who had worked as a bartender, was also drunk at the time of the crash and was not wearing a seat belt. Prosecutors say that evidence had no bearing on whether Leyritz ran the red light.
In May, Leyritz settled a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Veitch's family for $250,000 in insurance and $1,000 in monthly payments out of his own pocket for 100 months.
Leyritz also played for the Angels, Rangers, Red Sox, Padres and Dodgers. He had a career batting average of .264 and hit 90 home runs.