Former Leafs captain walks free

Former Leaf captain Rick Vaive was found not guilty of impaired driving. (Craig Robertson/QMI...

Former Leaf captain Rick Vaive was found not guilty of impaired driving. (Craig Robertson/QMI Agency/Files)

MICHELE MANDEL, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:50 PM ET

NEWMARKET, ONT. - What a lovely message the courts have just sent.

You can get behind the wheel after drinking six beers, piss your pants, lie to police, blow twice the legal limit and still walk away from drunk driving charges because of the skillful stick handling of your expensive lawyer.

That was the lucky outcome for former Leafs captain Rick Vaive, who emerged from Newmarket court an innocent man Thursday after Justice Anne-Marie Hourigan found there was a reasonable doubt as to whether he was really driving drunk back on July 14, 2009.

The judge found the 52-year-old hockey legend “candid and straightforward” when he testified that rather than inebriated, he was simply tired after spending most of the previous night playing cards and stiff and in pain after several rounds of golf and driving for two hours aggravated his old NHL wounds.

Hourigan believed his version of the story, she said, because she found Vaive a credible witness: he has no criminal record, played an elite level of hockey and gives back to the community with charity golf tournaments.

So, of course, he was telling the truth.

“You are free to go, Mr. Vaive,” Hourigan said after reading her 90-minute decision.

Almost three years after the charges were first laid, the dapper, silver-haired Vaive shook hands with his lawyer, Calvin Barry, hugged his tearful wife and left behind the media attention that has dogged him with no comment.

This is not the way he wants to be remembered.

The former 50-goal scorer was pulled over on his way home to Oakville after spending two days in Gravenhurst with his hockey buddies at, yes, a charity golf tournament. He had just dropped them off at a plaza near Highway 7 and Pine Valley Rd. when a 911 caller reported seeing him staggering in the parking lot and then driving over a curb as he pulled away in his Ford F-150 truck.

Stopped about 8 p.m. by York Regional Police, Vaive had a wet stain on his crotch, seemed slow in getting his papers, smelled strongly of alcohol and his eyes were bloodshot. But the judge accepted all of the former hockey player’s explanations.

The bloodshot eyes? He was just exhausted after an all-night card game.

The odor of alcohol? Well, he’d had a half dozen Coors Lites, but he’d paced himself through the day and finished drinking long before he was stopped.

Slow to stop and get his insurance? He was really nervous.

The pee stain? He has a long-time bladder problem.

And what of those sky high breathalyzer readings? At 10:39 p.m., Vaive’s blood alcohol level was 180 mg/100 ml and 172mg/100 ml at 11:03 p.m. - both more than twice the legal limit. But due to a legal technicality - the breathalyzer wasn’t administered within two hours - the judge isn’t allowed to accept those results at face value and must consider “evidence to the contrary”, such as the credible testimony of Vaive and his former linemate Bill Derlago that he wasn’t impaired.

The judge was especially convinced by the video taken during his booking at the police station. “The videotape speaks for itself,” noted Hourigan. “At no time was he observed to be stumbling or swaying or off balance.”

His lawyer said that was the key. “The big thing is the video,” Barry said outside the courthouse. “A picture is a thousand words and he wasn’t drunk. He was tired and what was on the video was contrary to what the arresting officer and the qualified breathalyzer technician had to say and thank God we had the video because that saved the day as the evidence acquitted the captain of the Maple Leafs.”

That’s how Vaive earns his living, of course. The retired 14-year hockey player trades his former NHL status for public appearances, speaking engagements and stints on a few corporate boards. A drunk driving conviction would have tarnished all that.

Still, much of the damage is done: The evidence paints a far different picture than the acquittal suggests and his own admission that he consumed six beers before driving is hardly exemplary.

So imagine a different scenario that would have done wonders for his image: where the former hockey hero faces the cameras and says he shouldn’t drink and drive.


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