Hockey great Gordie Howe scored a victory in the courtroom yesterday when a Bridgeport, Conn., jury ruled he did not negligently cause the death of a 20-year-old Fairfield, Conn., man in a car accident six years ago.

"I'm relieved and grateful," Howe said in a telephone interview after the verdict was announced. "That's a scary experience."

Howe wasn't at the courthouse when a Bridgeport Superior Court jury found he wasn't responsible for the crash that killed John LaBrusciano on March 24, 1984. During the four-day trial, Howe's lawyer, Dion Moore, argued that his client had attempted to rescue LaBrusciano after his car careened across the Merritt Parkway and smashed into a tree.

Moore said Howe was unable to pull LaBrusciano out before the car burst into flames.

The lawsuit, which sought unspecified damages, was filed by LaBrusciano's mother, Marguerita LeSerra. LeSerra refused to comment after the trial. Her lawyer, Jay Sandak, said he was unsure whether he would file an appeal.

Sandak had argued that Howe, 62, ignored a stop sign while entering the Merritt Parkway at Westport and crashed into LaBrusciano's car, causing it to careen into the median and hit the tree.

But Moore said Howe was rear-ended by LaBrusciano's car, which then spun out of control.

Howe testified Thursday he had stopped before entering the parkway to return to his Glastonbury, Conn., home after visiting a friend. He said that while he was driving along, a car came up close behind him, and then he felt a tap on his bumper. Howe said the car flew past him, hit the guard rail, shot across the highway and hit the tree.