All-Star Goaltender Arrested in Hit and Run
By Ray Stevens, Sports Reporter
DALLAS, TEXAS – Dallas Lightening goaltender, Brian LeClair, was arrested early Sunday morning on charges involving a hit-and-run accident and leaving the scene of an accident. An eleven year-old girl is currently listed as critical at Children’s Center Hospital in Dallas.
LeClair was taken into custody at his University Park estate in Dallas at 5:36 a.m. Sunday. He was later released after posting a $1,000,000 bond.
According to police sources, several witnesses reported seeing a vehicle matching LeClair’s travelling at high speeds through a residential neighborhood in the south Dallas suburb of Fair Park. At approximately 2:10 a.m., a black Mercedes Benz struck the eleven year-old, whose name is currently being withheld from the media. Witnesses claim the vehicle fled the scene.
“Our investigation is ongoing,” Dallas Police Capt. Thomas Blake said. “Mr. LeClair has been charged with hit and run and fleeing the scene of an accident. As our investigation continues, we will see if any other charges are warranted.”
Dallas County District Attorney, Bill Taylor, stated a grand jury could convene as early as next week.
LeClair would not respond directly to reporters’ questions as he left the Dallas County Court House. A statement issued by LeClair’s agent and attorney, David Patterson, stated the goaltender would not be commenting directly to the media.
“Mr. LeClair is devastated by what has transpired and has assured me that alcohol was not a factor at the time of the incident. My client is willing to accept responsibility now that we have learned someone has been injured,” Patterson stated from the court house steps.
“He wants to deal with this unfortunate incident and put it behind him. He knows his life is under a microscope and he’s willing to face the consequences should there be any.”
According to his attorney, LeClair assumed he had struck debris as he was driving home. Patterson also stated, LeClair would have turned himself in sooner but wanted to talk to an attorney first.
A police spokesperson claims there was no evidence of skid marks or other indications the driver made an attempt to stop.
“Intoxication is not going to be an issue and we have several witnesses to support that claim,” Patterson said.
LeClair was last seen at a topless club in Dallas approximately two hours earlier, a source has stated. But when questioned directly, the club’s general manager refused to confirm or deny the comment.
Six years ago, Brian LeClair was the league’s top pick in the entry draft, taken first overall by Detroit. After playing three years with Detroit, he chose free agency and signed a lucrative contract with the Dallas Lightening, estimated to be worth eleven million dollars a year plus performance bonuses that could put his earnings in the twenty million dollar range.
LeClair has led the team to two championships, but has played only sparingly in his last two seasons. Some insiders have felt his off ice behavior and problems over the past number of years could very well put an end to his career.
Team officials had no comment and would not return telephone calls.
All the signs had pointed to a typical July day in north Texas; hot, humid and dank. The overhead sun burned through the bright azure sky with a vengeance and scorched the already parched landscape. But as the black Mercedes turned hard off Highway 635 and sped east along Interstate 20, the tone was starting to change.
A few miles inside the Louisiana border, dark ominous clouds lined up refusing to budge, blocking out the hot sun. The thick haze was a peculiar purple-gray and growing darker by the hour. The atmosphere was charged full of unpredictable electrical impulses, the kind that makes the hair on the back of one’s neck stand on end. It was going to rain, but it wouldn’t be a soft shower that cooled, but a downpour that pounds the earth. This storm wasn’t meant to destroy; it was to be a tempest that cleansed.
Just south of exit 173, off a monotonous stretch of flat, hot interstate in rural Louisiana, a few miles east of Monroe and a little more than three hundred miles from Dallas, an isolated and ignored old liquor store stood as the setting to nothing in particular.
The old wooden building had witnessed better days. Eight-year-old gray paint was the only substance that held the rotten wood siding together and the five front windows hadn’t been opened in over five years. An ancient, rusted air conditioner mounted directly through the wall, deadened the noise of the interstate and rattled the dust off the liquor bottles inside. Jake’s was never intended to be upscale or fancy. There was nothing special inside or out. But it was there and it was open.
The driver swung the black Mercedes Benz 500SL through the deserted parking lot, the tires spitting as much gravel in the air as possible. He parked close to the door and took up as much room as he wanted. His hand slammed the mahogany topped gearshift into park then fumbled to turn off the ignition.
As Brian rose from the cool tan leather seat, an empty can of Miller fell from his lap, landing on the hard gravel surface. The sound of the empty can echoed through the parking lot and disappeared somewhere off in the distant parched cotton field.
His eyes filled with indifference as he glared down at the empty can. He tried to recall what he had done with the others but that memory never came back. In frustration, Brian kicked the empty can, hoping it would disappear from his sight and his thoughts. But it didn’t, just like everything else in his life wouldn’t. He slammed the car door in anger, leaving the key in the ignition and turned towards the store.
Brian stumbled through the haze of alcohol and exhaustion and made his way towards the establishment’s front door. To steady himself he used his right hand like a crutch following the contour of the car. As he moved along the length of the vehicle, he felt the indent on the front hood and quickly jerked his hand away like a child who had just touched a hot element.
He opened the old scratched, milky glass door and felt a blast of stale, smoke- filled air slap him in the face. He heard the rusted hinges creak and pop, proving their lack of use and their age.
The old man behind the counter greeted him without removing the cigar from between his stained cracked lips. The greeting was standard, always the same. He welcomed all who walked into his establishment, even if he had never before set eyes upon them.
“How ya’ll doin?” Jake asked, smiling through the few broken, yellow teeth he had left. “Weather’s looking pretty bad out there. Just heard it’s fixin’ to get worse too.”
“Where’s the cooler?” Brian slurred.
“Back there,” Jake said, pointing to the back of the store. “Anything special I can point y’all to?”
“Labatt Blue,” he ordered without dignifying the man with so much as a glance.
“Ain’t never heard of that kind.”
“It’s Canadian,” Brian replied. It wasn’t the brand he really wanted; it was just his arrogant way of informing the old man he wasn’t from this area or even on the same level. He never was and never would be.
“Beer’s at the back,” the old man pointed.
Jake watched as his one and only customer struggled to move down the aisle in a straight line and shook his head. As Brian staggered towards the back of the store, he tried focusing his eyes on the cooler along the back wall, but it was difficult. He bumped into a display of pork rinds, knocking four of the bags to the floor without noticing.
“Don’t mind ‘em,” Jake yelled from behind his counter. “I’ll put ‘em up later. Beer’s to your left. Bud’s on sale over to your right.”
Brian ignored Jake’s assistance and opened the first cooler that came into focus. He felt a chill as the icy air hit him. He grabbed the first case within reach and turned back towards the counter. It was Coors, but that didn’t matter. The cooler door slammed shut behind him.
He staggered just as much to make his way back up the aisle and stepped on two bags of pork rinds that remained on the floor in his way.
“Where y’all headed to?” Jake asked, trying to make conversation with the stranger.
“Florida. How much do I owe you?”
Brian pulled a large roll of bills from the right pocket of his designer jeans and without looking, peeled off the first crisp twenty and slapped it on the counter.
“Keep it,” he mumbled. “The change should cover whatever that was I stepped on back there.”
Brian didn’t wait for a response. He didn’t want one and he certainly didn’t need one from this hick he thought. He grabbed his purchase and moved for the door. He was disgusted by the entire set up. This was not a place Brian would want to be caught dead in. He was better than that.
“Like I told ya, weather’s fixin’ to get real bad. Y’all better be careful.”
Jake doubted the stranger heard a word he had spoken. From his spot behind the counter, he watched as Brian slid back into the shiny black car. He saw him open one of the new cans and empty it all in one motion. It didn’t surprise him when he saw the empty can fly through the open window and land on the gravel in the middle of his lot.
The Mercedes’ engine fired up with ease and quickly backed away from the front of the store. Brian slammed the transmission in to drive and the car lurched forward, picking up speed towards the interstate. Small bits of gravel flew in the air, pitting Jake’s front window.
In an instant, the Mercedes was gone, far enough away that Jake didn’t hear the driver call him a “dumbass redneck.”
Brian LeClair was drunk again. He was drunk before he pulled into Jake’s and he preferred to remain in that state long after he left. Yeah, this time it was different, he assured himself. It was justified. He had excuse and it was a good one. In fact, he felt he had several excuses; anyone of them could be used to justify his current condition and state of mind. He had been listing and rehearsing each and every one of them, over and over again in his head since speeding out of Dallas.
For the last three hundred miles, the self-pity churned away, eating at his insides. As the mileage increased, so did his alcohol consumption. At times he felt his entire soul was going to explode. Alcohol had always eased the problems before, but it wasn’t working, not this time. He could still feel it all; everything was still there and he couldn’t understand why. It didn’t make sense because a few drinks usually helped him after a bad game. It took the edge off and numbed the negative words in the articles splashed across the next day’s sports pages.
Besides, everyone else did it. They all celebrated after a good game or drowned out the bad ones. It was the way the game was played and Brian played it well. He was a star and he always won, no matter what or who got in his way.
But this time was different. The alcohol wasn’t working. The edge wasn’t coming off. He still felt like he was in the middle of a bad game, only this one was complicated. It was his life. Or what was left of it for that matter.
From the outside, Brian LeClair was a man who seemed to have it all; a gifted, talented athlete, a multi-million dollar contract on a number one ranked team, a young beautiful adoring wife, expensive cars, and a massive eighteen thousand square foot gated estate. But that was what others saw.
Few outsiders knew this picture perfect life had started to crumble several years before. The once gifted athlete had lost his edge, the millions had to be managed and protected by a professional group of handlers, the once adoring fans had turned on him, the beautiful wife was on the verge of filing for divorce, and now an innocent eleven-year-old girl clung to life by a very thin thread.
Earlier that day, just minutes after his release from jail, he had been summoned to the team’s management office. Everyone involved in the sport of hockey knew any call to attend an off-season meeting in July was not a good sign for any player, even a million-dollar super star like Brian LeClair.
At ten minutes after two, he entered the large, cold boardroom alone. Around a large polished boardroom table, he faced the team owner, the general manager and a gaggle of stone-faced lawyers with a quiet hostility directly aimed at him.
Dispensing with formalities and rushing through the introductions, George Cameron, the portly general manager, read a well-prepared, well-rehearsed statement to the entire room. But its contents were directed at Brian.
“In the best interests of the Dallas Lightening, management has traded the rights for Brian LeClair for future considerations effective noon today. You have two days to report to the front office of the team in Tampa Bay, Florida. At 12:15 p.m. your equipment and personal contents were cleared out of your locker and expedited to Tampa Bay.”
Brian sat speechless. In silence, he glared at each person seated around the table, one at a time, one by one. When he finished, he stared each of them down again. Then, slowly, quietly and without looking back, Brian LeClair, the all star goaltender left the corporate boardroom in downtown Dallas.
For the longest time he sat alone in the player’s private parking lot, the Mercedes engine running and the air conditioner blasting cold air directly at to his face. He tried contemplating his next move.
He picked up his Blackberry and dialed his agent’s office.
“There’s nothing I can do, Brian,” David Patterson responded. “I warned you. In fact we’ve all warned you. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise.”
Brian couldn’t remember the exact route he took home after the call, but the drive was quick and cold. As he pulled through the gates and on to the circular drive of his University Park estate, he spotted Nicole kneeling in her rose garden. He sat for a moment, watching her tend to the delicate flowers she adored. Lately it was something she had been spending more and more time doing. He was glad to see her because he needed her comfort again. She was and always would be his rock.
With his head down, he quietly walked over to the garden. The closer he came to her, the more at ease he felt.
But before he was able to speak, his adoring wife of eight years turned and coldly stated, “I’m not going. I’ve heard all about it and I’m not leaving.”
“Why?” he asked. “Why not?”
“I can’t live like this anymore, Brian. I just can’t do it.”
Nicole turned back to her flowers.
“But this is the life you wanted. Are you telling me you just want to walk away from all this?”
Nicole turned around quickly, “No! This is what you wanted!” she yelled.
“Listen babe, I know you’re angry right now but you’re my wife and you have to be by my side. You’re my wife!”
“Brian, you have no idea what a wife is. And by the way, just to let you know, my anger ended a long time ago. Even that is gone. You somehow managed to take that from me as well as everything else. Now I’m just numb and tired. Really tired!.”
She paused for a moment before saying, “Please just go.”
She remained down on her knees while Brian stood above her unable to respond. He saw the hurt and sadness in her eyes. He couldn’t recall when they had become so cold. Fresh streaks of tears on her cheeks had left their evidence but he knew deep down she had been crying for some time.
Brian walked inside the front door of his house and stood in the grand foyer. He looked back and forth, scanning the space, trying to gain some kind of appreciation and pride for everything he had achieved and acquired. But now it all seemed so lifeless now. Why is it always so cold in here? He thought.
He moved up the winding staircase and down the hall to the master bedroom, stopped at the open door. He gazed at the king-sized bed they had shared for so long. The memory of the day spent furniture shopping at the exclusive Dallas boutique flooded through him and his eyes became moist. He had just deposited his signing bonus and the couple was on top of the world and nothing was going to bring them down.
He shook off the image as best as he could and moved through the bedroom into their large ensuite masterbath. He grabbed a few personal items and stuffed them into his overnight bag. It was the same bag he used on the numerous road trips he’d taken throughout his career. But this trip was different; he wasn’t coming back.
He walked through the house one last time then out the front door. Nicole was still in the garden; her shoulder’s hunched over in defeat. He stopped on the last step and looked at her for the last time. He waited for her to cry out and beg him to stay. But this wasn’t the movies and her plea didn’t come.
Brian pulled away and watched as the beautiful estate and once loving wife grew smaller in the rear-view mirror. In anger, he reached up and tore the mirror from the windshield. He squeezed it tight, hoping to crush the image it held. When that didn’t work he threw it over his shoulder where it came to rest somewhere on the backseat.
He would show her, he thought.
In fact, he’d show them all, every last one of them. His equipment was en route to his new team in Florida and that was all he needed. It was all he cared about at that moment.
He recalled when he was young; friends, family and strangers had all started making their own plans for his future success. They were the first to stand up and yell, “I told you so,” when Brian skated a victory lap around Dallas Arena, hoisting the championship cup above his head.
But they were also the same people who were the first to turn away when his world started to fall apart. “Too much money and fame,” some would say behind his back. But mostly they’d say, “I told you so.”
His agent, David Patterson, had negotiated one of the richest contracts in the history of the league. Eleven million dollars per season for five years, a five million dollar bonus for winning the championship and numerous other incentives were penned out. Brian hit the bonus level twice. But that had been years ago and in the world of sports, it’s not what you’ve done, but what can you do for us now.
In his third year with the Lightening, injuries kept him on the bench for most of the season and that’s when the real drinking began. His forth year brought more frustration and the alcohol developed into a serious problem.
In the beginning, management overlooked his off-ice behavior, just as the junior coaches did when he was a young star setting records in western Canada.
In high school, the rules set out for other students were not the same for Brian LeClair. He slept through most of his junior year classes, too weary from the early morning practices. His afternoons were spent preparing for evening games. Homework was an assignment unheard of for the young goaltender. It was then Brian realized he had something special and he quickly learned how to take advantage of the special considerations. It didn’t take long for him to believe he deserved it all and more.
On his sixteenth birthday, the local car dealership and major team sponsor had provided him with his first car. When that car was mysteriously discovered abandoned in a field two weeks later, the same sponsor replaced it without question.
Now, at the age of thirty-eight, Brian LeClair had all the cars any man could ever want, but too many to be called a necessity. He now had everything he had ever wanted and deserved, but nothing he needed.
Back on the road, the case of beer from Jake’s hadn’t lasted as long as he had hoped. He drained the last can and threw it in the backseat. He couldn’t remember how long it had been since his last stop but he knew he needed another.
He searched the sides of the interstate for a clue to his next stop. The speed and the alcohol, mixed with the rain that now splashed on the windshield made his focus difficult. But no reason to slow down, he thought. I drive better drunk.
The cruise control was set at ninety while Matchbox 20 pushed the Mercedes’ speakers to their limit.
WELCOME TO MISSISSIPPI
He saw the sign, but nothing else. Everything immediately went blank.