WAUKEGAN, Ill. (AP) _ With his victim watching from a wheelchair, a 16-year-old hockey player pleaded no contest Monday to leaving a rival team’s captain paralyzed when he slammed him into the boards.
Prosecutors say the case has focused fresh attention on the need for safety in contact sports at the high-school level.
``This is a tragedy, and there are no real winners in this case,″ Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Waller.
The 16-year-old victim, Neal Goss, able to move his arms only with great effort, was in the courtroom. His doctors say the injuries he received at the close of the Nov. 3 match appear to be permanent.
The defendant, whose name was not released under judge’s order, had been charged with two felony counts of aggravated battery following the incident in a junior varsity game between two suburban Chicago high schools, Glenbrook North and New Trier.
The charge was reduced to a misdemeanor and the youngster allowed to enter a plea similar to no contest, under which he claims innocence but acknowledges that the state has enough evidence to convict him.
He faces up to a year in jail but prosecutors have said they will not press for incarceration.
Evidence showed that one second after the game-ending buzzer, the defendant, a member of the Glenbrook North team, cross-checked Goss head-first into the boards. Goss was paralyzed from the chest down.
It was the first time that the two teams had met since Glenbrook defeated New Trier in the state championship a year earlier.
By many accounts, violence flared repeatedly as the mood grew ugly. Prosecutors said that at one point the defendant hit Goss on the head with a stick and Goss pushed him to the ice.
The two boys did not speak to each other or even look at each other as the defendant appeared before Judge John G. Radosevich.
Waller said prosecutors brought charges against the defendant because the check was deliberate, caused severe injury and came after the five-second buzzer.
He said prosecutors did not bring the charges to send any message about the importance of safety in contact sports at the high school level. But he said many people have called to say that the case has done exactly that.
``If that’s the case, so much the better,″ Waller said. He indicated that while the offense was serious, he had no hesitation about reducing the charges as part of the plea agreement and still felt that justice had been done.
``We’re talking about a 15-year-old boy who made a very bad snap decision at the end of a hockey game,″ he said. ``I don’t think that anybody ever thought or intended that anybody should go to prison.″
Defense attorney Jeffrey Steinback said that his client wanted to enter a no-contest plea because ``there has to be an end to what was otherwise an endless series of painful moments.″
``I hope that this solemn gesture on the part of my client will be the first step in the healing process between the families,″ Steinback said.
The Goss family has filed a civil suit against the family of the defendant, and thus far there has been no sign of reconciliation.
Radosevich set sentencing for Sept. 29.