Bell, who was traded to the Leafs by the San Jose Sharks in June, had faced nearly four years in state prison if convicted of the original charges. He entered the plea Tuesday in Santa Clara County Superior Court, said prosecutor Cindy Seeley Hendrickson.
Bell issued a statement Wednesday, saying he had entered the plea bargain so he could “accept full responsibility for my error in judgment.
“I am deeply sorry for the hurt that I have caused to others and for the way in which my actions reflected upon the San Jose Sharks, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and upon myself.
“I accept my punishment as handed down by the court. I look forward to fulfilling my obligations, and in moving on with my life in a positive manner. I’m glad to be returning home to Canada, and I look forward to playing in Toronto this season.”
The drunk driving charge is a felony, and the hit-and-run charge was reduced from a felony to a misdemeanour as part of the plea agreement, said Bell’s defence lawyer, Ken Robinson. A sentencing date has not been set, Robinson said, adding that Bell will serve his sentence during the summer months so it doesn’t conflict with the hockey season.
“The Toronto Maple Leafs have been aware of the charges against Mark Bell,” Leafs GM John Ferguson said in a statement. “The club has been following the legal proceedings closely since he became a member of our team this past June.
“Mark has acknowledged the error in judgment that he made. He has expressed to the court and to us that he is deeply sorry and that he will accept the punishment resulting from the legal proceedings. Mark has accepted responsibility for his actions, and the Leafs organization will support Mark through this challenging time.”
Bell was arrested in September 2006 after his Toyota sedan rear-ended a pickup truck in an early morning accident in Milpitas, Calif., a town in the San Jose foothills.
The 40-year-old driver of the truck received head injuries and cuts. Bell walked a short distance from the scene and was arrested. His blood-alcohol level was higher than 0.15, nearly double the state’s legal limit of 0.08, prosecutors said.
At the time of his arrest, Bell had not yet played for the Sharks after being acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks, where he was named Chicago’s Man of the Year for his charity work and community service.
He was a disappointment in his only season in San Jose, managing just 11 goals and 10 assists in 71 games. When he was traded this summer, Bell had two years and US$4.5 million remaining on the contract he signed after joining the Sharks.