Dan Snyder of the Atlanta Thrashers died Sunday night of massive brain injuries he suffered in a car crash that shook the NHL and now leaves the driver, teammate and budding superstar Dany Heatley, facing a homicide charge.
Snyder, a hard-working forward from Elmira, Canada, never regained consciousness after the accident last Monday night on a residential street in Atlanta. Police said Heatley, the most valuable player of last season's NHL All-Star game and the 2001-02 rookie of the year, was driving 80 mph in a 35-mph zone when he lost control of his Ferrari and crashed into a brick and iron fence. The impact sheared the car in half and threw both players into the road.
Police have not gotten results of tests that will determine whether Heatley had been drinking before the accident, which occurred after a team function.
Snyder suffered a fractured skull and underwent surgery shortly afterward at Atlanta's Grady Hospital. Heatley suffered a broken jaw as well as a serious knee injury that was expected to keep him off the ice for several months.
Heatley, 22, initially faced a felony charge of serious injury by vehicle and three misdemeanor charges. However, a spokesman for the Atlanta Police Department told Associated Press that Snyder's death will result in more serious charges against Heatley after investigators consult with members of the district attorney's office today.
"The charges will be upgraded. It hasn't occurred yet," Sgt. John Quigley said Sunday night. "I expect them to be upgraded in the near future.... It would likely be vehicular homicide first degree."
The upgraded charge would carry a sentence of three to 15 years in prison.
The NHL is acquainted with such tragedies. In 1984, Craig MacTavish, then playing for the Boston Bruins, was convicted of vehicular homicide after a car in which he was driving struck and killed a young woman. MacTavish, who had been driving under the influence of alcohol, served a year in jail and sat out the 1984-85 season. He later resumed his career in Edmonton and now coaches the Oilers.
Several NHL players have died in car accidents that were attributed to excessive speed or alcohol, including Tim Horton of Buffalo in February 1974, Pelle Lindbergh of Philadelphia in November 1985 and Steve Chiasson of Carolina in May 1999.
The Thrashers are scheduled to open the season Thursday at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets. They did not reach the playoffs last season but were considered a team on the rise in part because of Heatley, who scored a team-record 41 goals.
"We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Dan Snyder," the Thrashers said in a statement. "Dan was a teammate and friend to all of us. We feel a tremendous amount of pain as an organization and extend deepest sympathies to his family."
Snyder, who had 10 goals and 14 points in 36 games with the Thrashers last season, underwent ankle surgery before training camp and was to have started the season on the injured list. He signed with Atlanta as a free agent in 1999 and spent most of his first three seasons in the minor leagues with Orlando of the International Hockey League and Chicago of the American Hockey League.
Associated Press contributed to this report.