Bears' Briggs Pleads Guilty in Car Crash

By TARA BURGHART
The Associated Press
Thursday, October 4, 2007; 7:43 PM

SKOKIE, Ill. -- Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs will be under court supervision for a year and must perform 120 hours in community service after crashing his Lamborghini alongside an expressway and leaving the scene.

Briggs pleaded guilty Thursday to leaving the scene of a property damage accident, a misdemeanor, and failure to report an accident, which is punishable by a fine. He has lost control of his $350,000 car in Chicago in the early morning hours of Aug. 27.

The Pro Bowl player spoke little in court except to say he understood the consequences of pleading guilty and to thank Cook County Judge Earl Hoffenberg, who also fined him $485.

Hoffenberg told Briggs he wants the community service to be in youth education, with a focus on encouraging young people to drive safely, because "I think they will pay a lot of attention to what you have to say."

Briggs declined to talk to reporters outside court, where he signed several autographs for fans.

Defense attorney Frank Himel later said he was pleased with the outcome.

"The judge was more than fair, more than fair," Himel said.

Prosecutors agreed to the plea agreement during a private conference with the judge and Himel, who said in court his client was taking "responsibility for one night of poor decision-making."

Briggs was driving his 2007 black Lamborghini Murcielago at a high speed when he hit a concrete embankment, spun out and ended up on the other side of the guard rail in a grassy median _ in the opposite direction he was traveling, authorities said. No one was injured.

Had the case gone to trial, prosecutors said, an Illinois State Trooper would have testified about arriving at the accident scene at about 3:20 a.m. to find Briggs' car abandoned with extensive damage. At about 5 a.m. a colleague told the trooper Briggs had called in saying he was at his Northbrook home and could talk about the accident. But when the trooper knocked on the door, at both 6 a.m. and 6:30 a.m., no one answered, Assistant Cook County State's Attorney Rick Cenar said in court.

Twelve hours passed after the accident before Briggs, accompanied by an attorney, turned himself in to authorities, Cenar said.

Cenar also told the judge that Briggs called 911 at 3:39 a.m. to report his Lamborghini had been stolen. The linebacker told reporters about that call the day after the accident.

"When it happened, the first thing I did was, obviously, I panicked," Briggs said at the time. "I didn't want there to be a big scene there. And so I left the scene. When I left, I called the tow truck. I also was startled, and I called to report that my car was stolen. Within probably 10 minutes, I called back and accepted responsibility for what I did because it was ridiculous in the first place."

Prosecutors dropped a charge of improper lane usage.

The judge said rather than levy a huge fine, which would probably make little difference to the linebacker, he instead imposed a stringent community service requirement.

Cenar said Briggs could have been sentenced to up to 364 days in jail.

Under supervision, Briggs could face jail time for something as minor as getting a speeding ticket. The supervision will end Sept. 3, 2008.

"We treated him like anyone else," Cenar said. "This is his first arrest. We give people the benefit of the doubt."

The prosecutor said he hopes the football player can indeed make a difference with teenage drivers, and also comply with the judge's conditions.

"It's up to Mr. Briggs now," Cenar said.

Briggs sat out the Bears' loss to Detroit on Sunday with a hamstring injury.

Speaking after Bears practice at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, coach Lovie Smith said he was aware of Briggs' hearing: "I believe in the court system and its rule. Lance will abide by the decision that was made today."

© 2007 The Associated Press