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Driver in Red Wings Crash Arraigned

July 2, 1999

WESTLAND, Mich. (AP) _ The driver of the limousine that crashed two years ago, severely injuring two members of the Detroit Red Wings organization, was arrested Friday on a drunken-driving charge.

Richard Gnida was arrested just months after his license was reinstated following a three-year revocation, which was in effect at the time of the accident.

He was stopped along Michigan Avenue after he allegedly ran a stop sign about 2 a.m. Friday, Wayne County Sheriff Robert Ficano said.

Gnida, 29, was arraigned in 18th District Court on a charge of third-offense operating under the influence of liquor. The misdemeanor carries a possible year in jail and $1,000 fine.

He had just gotten his license back April 19, a month after being released from jail for violating his probation stemming from the June 13, 1997 crash. Gnida was driving the limousine that ran onto a median and hit a tree in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham six days after the Red Wings won their first Stanley Cup in 42 years.

Defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov and team masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov suffered disabling head injuries. A second player, Slava Fetisov, suffered lesser injuries.

Gnida told police he had blacked out. Although blood tests found evidence of marijuana in Gnida’s blood, prosecutors could not determine if that contributed to the accident. He was convicted of driving with a suspended license and served seven months of a nine-month sentence.

Gnida was ordered back to jail in January after pleading guilty to probation violation charges. He was accused of skipping meetings with his probation officer, not receiving therapy, failing to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and not completing community service.

He was released in March after serving part of a 90-day sentence. The Secretary of State reinstated Gnida’s driver license April 19.

``That probation violation is a separate issue from the driving record review and doesn’t bear on the review of the driver’s driving record,″ said Julie Pierce, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office. ``Our issue is looking if that driver is safe to drive on the road and not a danger to others.″

Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca, who handled the 1997 case, said that is ridiculous.

``That’s a crime in and of itself,″ he said. ``This guy violates every term of his probation, gets a year in jail and irrecoverably injures two people and gets his license back? Well, Merry Christmas.″

The Secretary of State’s Office originally revoked Gnida’s license in January 1996 for having more than 12 points on his driving record.

Gnida was convicted in 1994 of driving while impaired _ under which his blood-alcohol content was below the state’s .10 legal threshold for drunken driving _ and of operating under the influence. He had also been ticketed twice for speeding.

Gnida’s driving privilege was reinstated after he presented a certificate proving he completed an outpatient abuse program in July 1998, said Elaine Charney, director of the state’s driver license appeals division.

If Gnida is convicted of the latest charge, his license would be revoked for a minimum of five years, Pierce said. That’s because he would have three drunken driving convictions within 10 years combined with a previous revocation.

Gorcyca, unable to prosecute Gnida with a more severe penalty at the time Konstantinov was injured, drafted two bills. Under the measures, which are effective in October, a person could face five years in prison for causing a serious injury and 15 years for causing a death while driving on a suspended or revoked license.

``Had those laws been in effect at the time of the Red Wing incident, he (Gnida) would be spending five years behind bars,″ Gorcyca said. ``He’s a menace to society and I’m amazed that he’s not killed anybody. Obviously the one year in jail he’s spent has had no effect.″

Judge Gail McKnight entered an innocent plea on Gnida’s behalf Friday and ordered him jailed on $25,000 bond. A preliminary hearing is scheduled Thursday. Authorities said Gnida’s family planned to post bond.

A man at Gnida’s home Friday said he was baby-sitting and could not comment.