New Leaf faces jail time

Mark Bell. (File)

Mark Bell. (File)

LANCE HORNBY Sun Media

, Last Updated: 12:50 AM ET

New Maple Leaf Mark Bell will be playing this season under the shadow of a 2008 jail term.

Sportsnet reported last night that the forward pleaded guilty to charges of drunk driving causing injury and hit and run and will serve six months in a Santa Clara County facility at the conclusion of this season.

The charges relate to an incident on Labour Day 2006 when Bell's vehicle rear-ended a pickup truck in the early morning hours, leaving the driver of the truck with head injuries. Bell fled and was located nearby by San Jose police.

Even if the Leafs miss the playoffs, such a sentence likely would carry over to the early part of the 2008-09 season for the 26-year-old from St. Paul's, Ont. Official sentencing will be this October.

The Leafs were well aware of the hot water Bell was in when they acquired him in June as part of the Vesa Toskala trade with the Sharks. But Bell said at the time of the deal he hoped the legal problem "will take care of itself."

General manager John Ferguson told reporters in June that "with all the research we've done, we feel he's in good hands."

Last night, Ferguson did not return a call to Sun Media, but e-mailed Sportsnet: "I will reserve comment until I can more fully review the situation."

Bell's agent, Ottawa-based Larry Kelly, and his San Jose lawyer, Kenneth Robinson, could not be reached for comment last night.

In 2000, Bell and future NHLer Nick Boynton were charged with assault causing bodily harm after an early morning altercation with a taxi driver outside a bar in downtown Ottawa.

A mediation session saw the charges withdrawn for both and Bell agreed to perform 50 hours of community service.

The Leafs hoped the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Bell, a former No.1 draft pick of Chicago, would benefit from a new start with Toronto, after the incident in San Jose cast a pall in his only season as a Shark.

The former Ottawa 67 had spent five years with the Blackhawks, ending with back-to-back 20-goal seasons, but had a career low 21 points as a Shark, with the off-ice issue obviously playing a part.

He was also slowed by groin and wrist injuries, but still came highly recommended to the Leafs by former Chicago teammate Doug Gilmour, the ex-Toronto captain and now an advisor to Ferguson.

Bell has two years remaining on a three-year $6.5 million US contract and the Leafs hope he can add size and scoring on the wing.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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