Denver Nuggets guard J.R. Smith, whose auto accident two years ago led to the death of his very close friend, will spend one month in jail.
The 23-year-old athlete began his sentence Tuesday night after reporting to the Monmouth County (N.J.) Jail, immediately after pleading guilty to reckless driving. The sentence reflects a plea deal he struck with a municipal prosecutor in Millstone Township, where the fatal crash occurred on June 9, 2007. He could have faced a much stiffer penalty if the grand jury had convicted him on the more serious felony count of vehicular homicide, which is punishable by several years in prison.
Judge Debra Gelson actually sentenced Smith to 90 days in jail, but she suspended 60 of them, and fined him $506, the maximum. She also ordered him to perform 500 hours of community service by visiting sick children in hospitals.
Smith, who brought his 4-month-old daughter to court with him, said, "It just tears me up that it went down like that. I take full responsibility for everything that happened, but it was an accident."
Prompted by one of his three attorneys, Smith apologized to the mother of crash victim Andre Bell, 21.
"I apologize to Ms. Wanda Bell; she's another mother figure. She always has been, since the first time I met her."
Gelson said Smith was a role model for children but that his driving record sent the wrong message.
"It's clear Mr. Smith does a lot for children," she said. "But as much as he does for children, he does them a huge disservice by not sending them a message that speed kills."