published Thursday, November 7th, 2013

Speeding-related charges against former Lookout-turned-Dodger baseball player dismissed

Reckless driving and speeding charges were dismissed against a 22-year-old Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder -- and former Chattanooga Lookout -- who was a finalist for Rookie of the Year this past season.

Yasiel Puig Valdes, a Cuban native, was arrested April 28 when a Chattanooga police officer caught him driving 97 mph in a 50 mph zone in the 3200 block of Amnicola Highway.

Puig was driving a BMW X351 SUV for a friend who had been drinking, he told police through an interpreter.

The officer who arrested Puig noted the driver's "wanton disregard" for public safety by driving at nearly twice the speed limit at 1:01 a.m. He noted that Puig drifted in and out of his lane, which triggered a reckless driving charge.

Prosecutor Neal Pinkston dismissed charges after the ballplayer performed 12 hours of community service in Los Angeles between his arrest and Wednesday. Pinkston cited Puig's lack of criminal history and his community service. A charge of violating the financial responsibility law was dismissed because Puig had a valid driver's license and insurance.

Pinkston said cases with similar facts and background are handled the same, regardless of the offenders' status.

"We want to treat people fairly," he said.

The hearing has been continued under an agreement between the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office and Puig's attorney, Mike Little, which is common practice in General Sessions Court.

Local WRCB-TV Channel 3 on-air personality David Carroll has written blog posts and tweets about delayed hearings for Puig since the baseball player's April arrest.

"Back in April, he somehow managed to not kill anyone during a late-night reckless driving spree," Carroll wrote in an August post on his blog. "We wouldn't want a court appearance to interfere with a millionaire athlete's schedule, now would we?"

Puig signed a seven-year, $42 million contract with the Dodgers after defecting from Cuba in 2012.

Puig played with the Lookouts in the first two months of the 2013 season before being called up to the Dodgers, according to the minor league team's website. Once in the big leagues he grabbed attention with high batting averages in the early season and highlight plays from the field.

Pinkston acknowledged that the hearing was delayed until the end of the baseball season. But both he and Little countered Carroll's depictions of extraordinary delay or that Puig was "dodging" court dates.

Little said it's common for hearings on less serious charges to be delayed when a defendant has out-of-town work, military service or school testing.

"His case was treated like any other in this court," Little said.

But, Little added that his client's community service went above what is normally required to have such first-time charges dismissed.

"He went the extra step, did 12 hours of community service," Little said. "I know he is remorseful for what he did; he realizes that was dangerous. You won't see him doing that again."

According to a letter from the L.A. Dodgers, the community service included mostly autograph signings for charity and hosting charitable events associated with the baseball team in Los Angeles.

Puig declined to comment.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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