Lawyer: Denny Hecker 'focusing on his Blackberry' just before crash

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 25, 2009 - 8:21 AM

His lawyer says the bankrupt auto mogul was texting when he hit a utility pole on Dec. 3; he was not driving impaired, and the blood sample was misleading.

Texting, not prescription drugs, caused Denny Hecker's auto accident last year, according to a statement his attorney released after Hecker pleaded guilty Friday to a misdemeanor charge of careless driving.

The bankrupt auto mogul entered the plea in Hennepin County District Court. Prosecutors dismissed a second charge of driving under the influence.

Hecker had pleaded not guilty to both charges in May.

The charges, filed in April, were in connection with a single-car crash in Plymouth. On the evening of Dec. 3, Hecker crashed his SUV into a utility pole a mile from his Medina home. He spent two days in the hospital with a concussion, broken ribs and a cut that penetrated an artery and required 60 stitches, his attorney, Marsh Halberg, said at the time.

Halberg said Friday that Hecker had recovered fully but would not be available for comment.

A Minnesota law that took effect in August banned texting by drivers while a vehicle is in motion or in traffic.

Judge Ann Leslie Alton stayed a 30-day jail sentence for a year under the conditions that Hecker pay a $1,000 fine plus court costs, that he complete a driver education program, and that he have no alcohol, drug, driver's license or insurance violations during that time. The sentence also includes a 90-day suspension of Hecker's driver's license, but he will be eligible for a work permit after 15 days.

In the aftermath of the crash, a state lab found a combination of powerful prescription drugs in Hecker's blood but no alcohol, the Plymouth Police Department reported. In Friday's statement, Halberg said the toxicology report was misleading; the blood sample was taken after morphine-based painkillers were administered to Hecker by medical personnel, he said.

Hecker had been in meetings all day before the crash and accessed his e-mail during his dive home.

"I personally talked to people who were with him before the crash, and they said he was exhausted from the meeting, but fine," Halberg said Friday. "This has been portrayed as a person out of control and driving impaired and just not being responsible, but that's not the situation. He was being careless, focusing on his Blackberry rather than his driving conduct, but he wasn't under the influence."

He noted that Hecker had taken the insomnia medication Ambien before leaving his office, under the impression that the drug would not take effect before the end of his 10-minute commute.

The big-spending and highly leveraged Hecker filed for bankruptcy in June after losing his business credit lines, closing 25 dealerships, shuttering his leasing and fleet businesses, putting his Advantage Rent A Car operation in bankruptcy and letting go thousands of employees. He reportedly owes $767 million and claims $18.5 million in assets.

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409 Staff Writer Dee DePass contributed to this report.

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