This blog has covered various times when athletes and the law intersect. It just goes to show that no one likes a lawyer until they need one – and everyone needs one at some point! The latest athlete to run into problems with the law is tennis champion Venus Williams. On June 9, while in Florida, Ms. Williams was involved in a car accident that ultimately led to the death of a passenger in the other vehicle. According to the current news and witness statements, Williams allegedly ran a red light in her vehicle, causing ultimately-fatal injuries to the 78-year old man inside, who died about two weeks later. Ms. Williams was unharmed in the incident.
Her side of the story, according to investigators, is that she had entered the intersection while her light was green, but was stopped midpoint by traffic ahead of her, and was struck by the man’s wife, Mrs. Barson. The report indicates that Ms. Williams was not under the influence of any drugs or alcohol, nor was there any evidence that she had been texting or otherwise distracted. At the time of the incident, the police did not issue Ms. Williams any citations, tickets or traffic violations. However, the police report does attribute fault to Ms. Williams, with Mr. Barson suffering a fractured spine and multiple internal injuries. While it does not appear that Ms. Williams will face any criminal charges at this juncture, she has been sued for damages on the grounds of negligent operation of a motor vehicle.
Williams is merely the latest celebrity in a fairly long list of others who have been sadly involved in fatal traffic accidents. Matthew Broderick killed the occupants of another vehicle in the late 1980s. Outrage followed when he was convicted of careless driving and fined only $175.00. Donte Stallworth, a former NFL wide receiver with the Cleveland Browns, ran over and killed a 59-year old man in Miami in 2009. He was later found to be drunk at the time, and served 24 days of a 30-day prison sentence, and was able to come back in full force to continue playing in the NFL, this time for the Ravens. Another athlete, Caitlyn Jenner, rear-ended a 69-year old woman and pushed her into the path of an oncoming vehicle. The woman died at the scene, and while Ms. Jenner was cleared of any criminal liability, she settled personal lawsuits with the victims involved. One of the most tragic accidents in recent history was when Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent was involved in a car accident that ended up killing Jerry Brown, his teammate. Brent served 180 days in prison and is currently serving 10 years’ probation, as well as dealing with the aftermath of killing his friend.
While Ms. Williams can be cleared of driving while intoxicated, it is clear the incident has impacted her: while at Wimbledon, after winning the first-round, she was asked about the accident. She was visibly emotional, saying she was speechless about it, and actually broke down in tears before leaving to regain her composure. The case will likely end up settling, if past is prologue, although Ms. Williams will likely be dealing with the ramifications of this tragedy long after the litigation ends.