By KEN RITTER (Associated Press)
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Ex-Las Vegas Raiders player Henry Ruggs pleaded guilty Wednesday to driving his sports car drunk at speeds up to 156 mph on a city street before causing a fiery crash that killed a woman and her dog.
“Guilty,” said the former first-round NFL draft pick, 24, who will avoid trial and is expected to be sentenced Aug. 9 to three to 10 years in state prison under terms of his plea deal with prosecutors. The minimum three-year sentence cannot be reduced by converting the year-and-a-half that he has spent on house arrest to time already served.
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson cited possible legal obstacles to obtaining a conviction at trial, said he met several times with relatives of the woman who died, and said the plea agreement with Ruggs “accomplished our three most important goals.”
Ruggs was convicted of felony DUI causing death, will go to prison, and won’t be able to appeal his conviction and sentence, the elected district attorney, a Democrat, said in a lengthy written statement. “When someone dies as the result of a drunk driver’s actions, this is the most serious charge the law allows.”
Ruggs declined to comment as he and a group of about nine people left the courthouse following his brief court appearance. He remains free pending sentencing.
“Henry entered his plea today in hopes that it will further the process of healing the wounds caused by the accident,” his attorneys, David Chesnoff and Richard Schonfeld, said in written comments. They promised a “more complete” statement following sentencing.
The Raiders dropped Ruggs while he was still hospitalized following the predawn Nov. 2, 2021, crash that killed 23-year-old Tina Tintor and her pet dog, Max.
Tintor’s mother, brother, uncle and several other family members were in the courtroom Wednesday with their attorneys, Paul Albright and Farhan Naqvi.
In a statement issued after the hearing, the family thanked the district attorney’s office for its work and said they look forward to putting the case behind them.
“Today, like every day, we remember Tina and Max, and how they were taken from us that fateful night,” the statement said. “No sentence will ever bring Tina and Max back, but we hope that everyone learns from this preventable incident so that no other families suffer like we do.”
Tintor, 23, was a Serbian immigrant who graduated from a Las Vegas high school, worked at a Target store, wanted to become a computer programmer and was close to obtaining her U.S. citizenship, friends and family members said following her death.
“The family appreciates privacy during this time of mourning,” Naqvi said later in a written statement.
Ruggs’ girlfriend, Je’nai Kilgo-Washington, was with him in his 2020 Chevrolet Corvette and also was injured. Prosecutors said Ruggs suffered a leg injury, and Kilgo-Washington received an arm injury. Kilgo-Washington and Ruggs have a daughter together, and Kilgo-Washington was not cooperative with prosecutors as a victim in the case.
Last week, Ruggs waived a long-delayed preliminary hearing with his agreement to plead guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol, causing death, a felony, and a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charge carrying a six-month jail sentence that will be folded in with his three-to-ten year prison term.
Wolfson said shortly after the crash that Ruggs would face a mandatory minimum of two years in prison if convicted and could get more than 50 years. The district attorney said investigators learned that Ruggs spent several hours drinking with friends at a sports entertainment site and golfing venue, and may have been at a friend’s home for several more hours before he and Kilgo-Washington headed home.
Since the crash, Ruggs’ lawyers lost several bids to challenge evidence, including that Ruggs had a blood-alcohol level of 0.16% — twice the legal limit in Nevada — after the rear-end wreck that ignited a fire that killed Tintor and her pet dog.
Wolfson said in his statement that Ruggs might have escaped conviction at trial because Ruggs was not administered a field sobriety test following the crash and his defense attorneys argued that that Ruggs’ blood-alcohol test was improperly obtained at the hospital.
“There was virtually no other evidence to prove Ruggs was under the influence,” Wolfson of the blood test.
“I recognize this outcome is not sufficient to punish Ruggs for the loss the Tintor family has suffered,” the district attorney conceded. “But there was a legitimate concern that a court would have suppressed the result of the blood draw. We would have lost the felony DUI charge. We couldn’t take that chance.”
Police reported that air bag computer records showed the Corvette slowed slightly from 156 mph (251 kph) to 127 mph (204 kph) seconds before slamming into Tintor’s Toyota Rav 4. The speed limit in the area was 45 mph (72 kph).
Other charges against Ruggs were dismissed under the plea agreement, including felony reckless driving, driving under the influence causing substantial injury to Kilgo-Washington, and a misdemeanor gun charge stemming from the discovery by police of a loaded handgun in his demolished Corvette. Ruggs agreed to forfeit the gun.
Ruggs posted $150,000 bail to be released from jail after leaving the hospital, and has remained on house arrest with strict conditions including electronic monitoring and alcohol checks. A judge’s order allowed him to attend a gym for three hours of physical training twice a week.
Ruggs’ full name is Henry James Ruggs III. He grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, and won an NCAA championship with the Crimson Tide before he was drafted by the Raiders in 2020. He signed a four-year rookie contract reported to be worth more than $16 million and had been emerging as a star NFL player before the crash. Records show he bought a $1.1 million home in April 2021, not far from the scene of the crash.
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