Kimball Offers Guilty Plea on First Day of Testimony
Former Olympic diver Bruce Kimball unexpectedly pleaded guilty to manslaughter Wednesday in the deaths of two teen-agers who were killed while he was driving drunk last summer.
Kimball changed his plea as testimony was just beginning.
The first witness, a sheriff’s deputy, was describing the scene after the accident along a stretch of pitch-black roadway, and the state was ready to introduce gory color pictures when Kimball, 25, changed his mind.
Kimball’s father, Dick, said the switch, an hour into proceedings, was made in the best interest of others.
“He did it for the right reasons. He did not want to put the parents of the kids through a horrible trial, or our family,” said Kimball, the University of Michigan’s diving coach.
“We really did not talk about it. It was Bruce’s decision. I am proud of him. I think it is something Bruce is trying to face, and I’m really sorry.”
In the face of strong evidence, Kimball, the 1984 Olympic silver medalist, pleaded guilty to two counts of driving under the influence manslaughter and three counts of causing great bodily harm while driving under the influence in the late-night Aug. 1 tragedy.
An hour after the accident, Kimball registered a blood alcohol level of 0.2, twice the limit at which a person is considered intoxicated under state law, prosecutors said.
After a half-hour meeting in chambers with the judge and trial attorneys, Kimball returned to the courtroom looking grim.
“Are you pleading guilty because you are guilty and for no other reason?” the judge asked.
His voice barely audible, Kimball replied: “Yes.”
Kimball was ordered held in custody until sentencing Jan. 30. He faces between 7 and 22 years in prison, under state sentencing guidelines.
John Skye, assistant Hillsborough state attorney, was surprised by the plea. He added that defense attorneys told the judge Kimball felt it would spare his own family and families of the victims the “inevitable trauma of the trial.”
“Obviously the pictures were the most graphically unpleasant part of this case,” Skye said.
“The state did have such a good case and was going forward. The state was not going to offer any negotiations.”
Defense attorneys Lee Fugate and Frank Quesada had no comment.
Earlier, Fugate admitted during opening arguments that Kimball had been drinking and speeding when his car plowed into the group of teen-agers on a dark dead-end street known as “the Spot,” a teen hangout in suburban Brandon, Fla.
“He admitted he was driving the automobile. He admitted he had been drinking,” Fugate said. “This young man never denied his responsibility. He admitted he was speeding.”
Kimball’s car came to a stop 400 feet after colliding with the first car, Skye said, estimating speed in excess of 75 m.p.h.
A witness who saw Kimball get out of the car would have testified that he beat his fist on the ground and said, “There goes the Olympics,” Skye said.
On Wednesday, after both sides had finished opening arguments, Skye was questioning the state’s first witness, Hillsborough sheriff’s deputy Karen Ovitt, the first on the scene of the crash.
“I could see with the headlights a body laying in the road,” she said. “It was in several pieces.”
Robbie Bedell, 19, and Kevin Gossic, 16, were killed, and four other people were injured.
The case generated extensive publicity last summer when Kimball went on to compete for a berth on the 1988 U.S. Olympic team but failed to make it.