NHL Player Mark Bell Skates Away from Severe California DUI Penalties in Plea Deal
By: Mary Ann Pekara
Notable athletes have entered pleas to some quite serious charges during the last few weeks. While most people have likely heard about the guilty plea that is soon to be entered by NFL superstar quarterback Michael Vick in relation to federal conspiracy charges in his dogfighting case, the recent plea of an NHL player may not have caught everyone's attention.
Last week, Toronto Maple Leafs player Mark Bell entered a no contest plea to a California DUI charge. Bell was arrested on suspicion of DUI last September in San Jose after he allegedly rammed a car he was renting into the back of a truck at a stop sign and then fled the scene. Bell was a member of the San Jose Sharks at the time of the drunken driving accident.
Police later found Bell less than a half mile away from the scene of the accident, which left the driver in the truck with a gash in his head that required several staples. The district attorney's office has said that Bell's blood alcohol content (BAC) was at 0.15 percent or higher. It is illegal to be driving with a BAC of 0.08 percent under California DUI law.
By entering the no contest plea, Bell avoided possible California DUI penalties of up to three years and eight months in prison. As part of his settlement, Bell will not have to miss any time during the hockey season. He will spend six months in a Santa Clara County Jail, possibly over two summers, in a move that was designated to not hurt his career. The NHL season typically lasts from October to early June.
The fact that this settlement was reached so that the 27-year-old Bell's career would not be impacted leaves a lot to be desired. If Bell wasn't a professional athlete, would he have been able to get such a break?
With that in mind, a San Jose Mercury News story detailed that prosecutors would have had to proven that Bell was actually driving a 2003 Toyota rented in his name at the time of the accident if the case had gone forward.
As part of the Mark Bell DUI plea deal, the 27-year-old left winger will not be eligible to have any of his sentence reduced. He will also have to pay the driver injured in the crash. Bell's attorney, Ken Robinson, described the Mark Bell DUI case as being "difficult" and called the settlement "fair."
Bell expressed contrition for the hurt he caused others in the DUI case. He also apologized for the negative light that the DUI charge cast on the San Jose Sharks, Toronto Maple Leafs and himself.