At approximately 3:39 a.m. Tuesday in Las Vegas, at a suburban intersection just a few miles west of the famed Strip, police say Raiders receiver Henry Ruggs III slammed his Corvette into the back of a Toyota RAV4.
The Toyota burst into flames. The fire department located the driver, a woman police have not yet named, inside the vehicle. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Ruggs was not seriously injured. Police said he “showed signs of impairment” on the scene. He was later transported to the hospital with “non-life-threatening” injuries.
“Ruggs will be charged with DUI resulting in death,” the LVPD stated.
That simple retelling of the case is infuriating enough. A preventable accident. Alleged impairment. A fatality. One life ended, one forever altered, all, apparently, because of a series of terrible decisions that stretched into the early morning hours in Vegas.
There is no excuse for DUI, ever, let alone in a city with ample taxis, Ubers or, in Ruggs’ case, a free transport system provided by the NFLPA or a damn limousine. His average annual salary was over $4 million. Even if it was $40,000, he could afford to find a way home safely.
The former Raider, who was the 12th overall selection in the 2020 draft coming out of Alabama, is in a great deal of trouble. As he should be.
If convicted of the Class B felony, he’s facing a minimum of two years in prison. It could climb to 20. There are also nominal fines and a suspension of his license.
“On behalf of our client, Henry Ruggs III, we are conducting our own investigation,” local attorneys David Chesnoff and Richard Schonfeld said in a statement. “[We] ask [that] everyone reserve judgement until all the facts are gathered.”
According to veteran defense attorneys with experience in DUI cases asked by Yahoo Sports to look at the case, that defense investigation is about the 22-year-old Ruggs’ only hope. If the facts of the case are what the LVPD say they are – and circumstances suggest they are – then there is almost no way he avoids serving time. As such, his NFL career is potentially over just as it was getting started.
“He is in serious trouble,” said Chris Scott, a former prosecutor and now defense attorney for the Christopher Scott Law Offices in Kansas City, Missouri. Scott has prosecuted and defended scores of DUI cases. “That does not mean he is guilty. He has the presumption of innocence, but based on what is out there, he is in serious trouble and faces a lot of exposure.”
“Based on what we know right now, the situation is not good,” said Craig Mordock of Mordock Legal in New Orleans, where he has defended nearly 1,000 DUI cases including numerous that involved “negligent homicide” charges.
The attorneys point to multiple factors that may limit any reasonable defense that the former University of Alabama star can mount.
His Corvette appeared to hit the Toyota with enough force to cause a fire, suggesting that the Toyota was stopped at the intersection and Ruggs was traveling at a significant rate of speed, Mordock noted. This was no fender bender. As such, he could be found at fault for the accident regardless of impairment.
Additionally, the driver died while inside her car, engulfed in flames, so the cause of death will be clear. Other complicating factors, such as if she was wearing a seat belt, won’t matter. Additionally, the gruesomeness of death will hang over everything. Not that there is a good way to die, but burned inside a car is certainly a particularly bad one.
“We are all humans and that will play on emotions, even from prosecutors or a judge if the case comes to a point where Ruggs is asking for any kind of leniency,” Scott said.
As for the DUI charge, while it’s possible for police on the scene to misjudge impairment (especially after a driver may have suffered a concussion or some other injury), because the accident involved a fatality it is likely a dozen or more police, firefighters and detectives arrived on the scene. All can serve as witnesses to Ruggs’ behavior.
A toxicology report can make even that moot, but Mordock said it is unlikely all of the officers who believed he was impaired would be wrong.
“This isn’t one rookie cop on some country road,” Mordock said. “You are going to have experienced, veteran officers here.”
Then there is the fact that Ruggs is young and famous. This is not the kind of defendant who prosecutors and judges like to go easy on, especially in such a high-profile crime of judgment in a city where such decisions are made in significant numbers.
“There is a perception that well-known people get treated better in cases like this, but sometimes they are treated harsher because they are prominent,” Scott said.
“Las Vegas is a party city,” Mordock said. “Ruggs plays for the new NFL team. If they cut him a deal it is a license for every other high-profile athlete to get out of jail free. This is the kind of person that you make an example out of.
“Obviously people point out NFL players who, in the past, who were involved in cases such as this and weren’t significantly punished, but the circumstances are very different,” Mordock continued.
That includes then-St. Louis Ram Leonard Little, who was convicted of manslaughter in 1998 when he killed a woman in a car in St. Louis. There was also the case of journeyman wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth, who was convicted of manslaughter in 2009 when he hit and killed a man in a Miami crosswalk.
Both were found to be under the influence but both avoided prison and continued their NFL careers. Stallworth spent 30 days in jail and was suspended for one season. Little received four years’ probation and continued his career.
“Leonard Little was  years ago,” Mordock said. “There has been a significant change in how DUI laws are written and prosecuted since then, especially when involving a death. As for Stallworth, because the man was in the crosswalk, there were some circumstances that don’t apply here that made manslaughter a possibility.”
All of it adds up to Ruggs dealing with a reality that he created. Barring mistakes by the LVPD or some significant discovery by his legal team, a young man with so much promise and so much going for him made a terrible decision that cost a woman her life, tragically altered the lives of her family, and likely changed his own forever as well.