Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth began serving a 30-day jail sentence Tuesday for killing a pedestrian while driving drunk in Florida, a punishment made possible by his cooperation with investigators and the fervent wish by the victim’s family to put the matter behind them.
Stallworth, 28, also reached a confidential financial settlement with the family of 59-year-old Mario Reyes, a construction worker struck and killed early on March 14 by Stallworth, driving drunk in his black 2005 Bentley.
Stallworth had faced 15 years in prison for his DUI manslaughter conviction. After his release from jail, he must serve two years of house arrest and spend eight years on probation. The house arrest provisions will allow him to resume his football career, his attorney said.
David Cornwell, a Stallworth attorney handling the NFL situation, said he has kept top league officials apprised of the case.
“Whenever it is appropriate to do so, we are prepared to discuss the circumstances under which Donte’ will resume his career,” Cornwell said.
The Browns released a statement late Tuesday regarding Stallworth.
“The Browns are very conscious of the seriousness of the charges to which Donte’ Stallworth plead guilty to today,” the statement read. “We are continuing to evaluate the situation and will make the decisions that we believe are in the best interest of the Cleveland Browns.”
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league is reviewing the matter for possible disciplinary action. Stallworth could face suspension without pay for some games this year.
Leonard Little of the Rams pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter after he hit and killed a woman while driving drunk in 1998 and served an eight-game suspension, though the punishment was doled out when the league was a bit more lenient.
Another one of Stallworth’s attorneys, Christopher Lyons, said the financial settlement was only one factor in the plea agreement. He noted that Stallworth stopped immediately after the accident, called 911 and submitted to roadside alcohol testing despite spending most of the night drinking at a swanky Miami Beach hotel.
“He acted like a man,” Lyons said. “He remained at the scene. He cooperated fully.”
Stallworth told Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Dennis Murphy that he hopes to get involved in drunken driving education programs.
“I accept full responsibility for this horrible tragedy,” said Stallworth, who was accompanied at the hearing by his parents, siblings and other supporters. “I will bear this burden for the rest of my life.”
Stallworth also must undergo drug and alcohol testing, will have a lifetime driver’s license suspension and must perform 1,000 hours of community service. Lyons said after five years, Stallworth could win approval for limited driving such as for employment.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle echoed Lyons in citing Stallworth’s lack of previous criminal record, cooperation and willingness to accept responsibility as factors in the plea deal. Rundle also said the Reyes family — particularly the victim’s 15-year-old daughter — wanted the case resolved to avoid any more pain.
“For all of these reasons, a just resolution of this case has been reached,” Rundle said.
None of the Reyes family attended the hearing. Their attorney, Rodolfo Suarez, read a statement saying the family wants to “bring closure to this emotional and tragic event.” Suarez did not respond to an email seeking comment.
After a night drinking at a bar in Miami Beach’s Fountainebleau hotel, police said Stallworth hit Reyes, a construction crane operator who was rushing to catch a bus after finishing his shift around 7:15 a.m. Stallworth told police he flashed his lights in an attempt to warn Reyes, who was not in a crosswalk when he was struck.
Stallworth had a blood-alcohol level of .126 after the crash, well above Florida’s .08 limit. Stallworth stopped after the crash and immediately told officers he had hit Reyes. Police estimated Stallworth was driving about 50 mph in a 40 mph zone.
Stallworth signed a seven-year, $35 million contract with the Browns before last season but was injured much of the year. The California native and University of Tennessee college star has also played in the NFL for New England, Philadelphia and New Orleans.
The night before the crash, Stallworth earned a $4.5 million roster bonus from the Browns.