Smith gets 90 days in jail, to serve 30

MILLSTONE, N.J. -- A judge sentenced Denver Nuggets guard J.R. Smith to 90 days in jail Tuesday night for causing an auto accident that killed his friend, though Smith will likely end up serving only 30.

Municipal Judge Debra J. Gelson suspended 60 days of the sentence providing Smith performs 500 hours of community service consisting of visiting sick children at hospitals.

Smith, who grew up in this town about 20 miles east of Trenton, was taken to county jail Tuesday night to begin serving his sentence.

"He's 23 years old; he's a tough kid and he's going to do these four weeks and come out a better person," said Kevin Hextall, an attorney representing Smith.

Gelson also suspended Smith's license for two years, to begin next March after Smith's current license suspension expires.

Smith, who didn't comment after the sentencing, expressed regret at causing the accident that killed his friend, 21-year-old Andre Bell of East Orange, in June 2007.

"It's been unbearable to deal with," he said to the court. "I am deeply sorry. I never intended for this to happen. It tears me up that it went down like that."

Nuggets vice president of basketball operations Mark Warkentien released a statement Tuesday night.

"We will continue to support J.R. during this difficult period and will have no further comment at this time," he said.

Smith, who starred at Lakewood High School and St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, admitted driving an SUV through a stop sign and colliding with a car in Millstone Township, about 20 miles east of Trenton, in June 2007. Bell later died from his injuries, and another passenger in the SUV and a woman driving the car were injured but recovered.

Smith suffered scratches and an injury to his left shoulder.

Prosecutor Richard Kelly said Tuesday the data recorder in Smith's vehicle showed he was driving 67 miles per hour in a spot where the speed limit was 35 mph. Both Smith and Bell were ejected from the vehicle after impact.

A grand jury declined to indict Smith, but he faced five motor vehicle violations and pleaded guilty to reckless driving.

Gelson focused on Smith's checkered driving record in rejecting Hextall's request to impose a fine but not jail time. She cited court filings that showed that Smith had 28 points on his license in 2005 that included four speeding tickets.

She also gave weight to Smith's two speeding tickets in Colorado since the accident, which she termed "disturbing," and said letting Smith off without jail time would send the wrong message.

"There has to be deterrence," Gelson said. "Young people look up to Mr. Smith; he's a role model. What would that say to them? That's it's OK to speed?"

Bell's family has filed a wrongful death suit against Smith. Attorney Harvey Grossman, representing the family, said discussions are under way.

Bell's mother, Wanda, and his brother attended the hearing but did not comment afterward. Hextall read from a letter Wanda Bell wrote last fall in which she called Smith "a beautiful young man" who was like a brother to her son.

Of the lawsuit negotiations, Hextall said Smith "has every intention of trying to resolve this matter."

Smith, a 6-foot-6 guard, recently finished his fifth NBA season and averaged 15 points per game for Denver.