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Monday, October 6, 2003
Charge carries sentence of three to 15 years

Associated Press

DULUTH, Ga. -- All-Star Dany Heatley was charged Monday with vehicular homicide after the death of Atlanta Thrashers teammate Dan Snyder, who was fatally injured when Heatley's sports car ran off a road.

Dan Snyder
Snyder

A spokesman for the district attorney's office, Erik Friedly, said the charge was based on a preliminary finding that Heatley was driving recklessly. It carries a prison sentence of three to 15 years.

Snyder died Sunday night at Grady Hospital, six days after sustaining severe brain injuries in the wreck. He was 25.

"The news of his passing fills all of us with an overwhelming sense of sorrow," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.

Heatley, the 22-year-old leader of the team, also was injured in the crash.

He underwent surgery Saturday for a broken jaw and an MRI found two torn ligaments in his right knee. His attorney, Ed Garland, said that Heatley was released briefly from the hospital Monday to spend time with family but that he'll return to have knee surgery Tuesday.

"He's an emotional wreck," Garland said. "He's grieving the tragic death of Dan Snyder. That's been almost his entire focus."

Garland said Heatley hoped to attend Snyder's funeral Friday in Elmira, Ontario, with the rest of the team. He must receive clearance from the authorities, Garland said.

Last season, Heatley scored a team-record 41 goals and was MVP of the All-Star Game.

Atlanta general manager Don Waddell said that team officials held internal discussions about possibly delaying Thursday night's season opener but that the Snyder family persuaded them to play.

"When I talked to the Snyder family, they really expressed their concern for the team and how we move forward," Waddell said at a news conference at the team's headquarters in suburban Atlanta. "They really felt the team needed to play."

The Thrashers weren't scheduled to practice again until Tuesday morning. They open the season against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Heatley already had been charged with serious injury by vehicle, but that charge was dropped after the vehicular homicide count was filed. He also still faces four misdemeanor counts, each of which are punishable by up to a year in prison. He is free on $50,000 bond.

"We are overwhelmingly saddened and distraught over this tragic loss," the Heatley family said in a statement released by the Thrashers. "Dan was a genuine and caring individual, and a tremendous friend to us all.

"Our deepest sympathies and compassion go out to his parents and their entire family."

Police said Heatley was driving his Ferrari at about 80 mph on a narrow two-lane road Sept. 29 when he lost control, spun off the road and smashed into a brick-and-wrought-iron fence.

Snyder, who was a passenger in the car, underwent surgery for a skull fracture but remained in a coma until his death. He was thought to be improving, though.

"We all were hoping for the best result," Waddell said. "We thought he was making good progress. He was battling, the same way he did on the ice."

Heatley's case has yet to be presented to a grand jury, which would decide on the formal charges, Friedly said. Prosecutors are waiting for more evidence before taking their case to the grand jury.

Police also were awaiting test results to determine whether Heatley was drinking on the night of the wreck. There is "no conclusive indication" that Heatley was drinking, Friedly said.

Heatley and Snyder had been at an event for season-ticket holders at Philips Arena shortly before the crash.

Snyder, a center who had 10 goals and four assists in 36 games for Atlanta last season, had surgery on his ankle in September before the start of training camp. He was expected to start the season on the injured list.

"He finally arrives and the team says, 'Go ahead and get a place, you're here, you've made the team,' " his agent, Todd Reynolds, told The Canadian Press. "During the offseason, they referred to him as 'one of our core guys.'

"They saw him filling that third- or fourth-line center role on the club. It's just so sad."

Snyder signed with the Thrashers as an undrafted free agent in 1999 after playing four seasons of junior hockey for Owen Sound in the Ontario Hockey League.

"How many undrafted guys make it to the NHL? Not many," Waddell said. "He had to work his way into the lineup to play in the minor leagues. The second half of last year, he really proved he was ready to be an NHL player."

Los Angeles Kings forward Sean Avery played three years with Snyder in Owen Sound.

"He was such a strong guy, such a fighter," Avery said. "I figured he would battle though this like he did everything else. I never, ever thought this would happen."

"On behalf of NHLPA members, I want to convey our deepest sympathies to Dan's family, friends and teammates during this difficult time," union executive director Bob Goodenow said in a statement. "Dan was a tremendous person and through his hard work and dedication he achieved his goal of becoming an NHL player. Dan will be greatly missed."

The Thrashers have only said that Heatley is out indefinitely, but it's clear Waddell is planning for the season without his best player.

He traded for Carolina Hurricanes goalie Jani Hurme on Friday with an eye toward acquiring help up front.

Atlanta also claimed left wing Serge Aubin from Colorado and left wing Ronald Petrovicky from the New York Rangers in the waiver draft.

Waddell said it's not known whether Heatley will miss the entire season.

"Until doctors go in and see the extent of the tear, it's impossible to give an accurate recovery timetable," he said Friday.