On Sept. 29 the Atlanta Thrashers, a team brimming with young talent, were confident that their season opener would be the first stop on the road to the franchise's first playoff berth. Dany Heatley, 22, the star right winger, was driving from an evening meet-and-greet with season ticket holders in his black Ferrari 360 Modena with Dan Snyder, the Thrashers' 25-year-old fourth-line center who was staying at his house. Suddenly, on a curvy road in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood, Heatley lost control and the car, going 80 mph, skidded into a brick pillar and iron fence. Snyder was thrown from the vehicle and fractured his skull. After six days in a coma he died on Sunday night.
Heatley's injuries are less serious: a broken jaw, a bruised lung and torn knee ligaments. He could be back on the ice this season. But he has problems beyond hockey: He has been charged with a felony count of vehicular homicide, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
Heatley's driving was a concern before the wreck. On Sept. 24, he sped, with his father, Murray, to a charity golf tournament, racing teammate Ilya Kovalchuk's Porsche. Murray told his friend Don Phelps that the white-knuckle ride left him worried. "He said he told Dany to slow down with that thing," says Phelps.
Investigators don't believe alcohol played a role in the accident, although Heatley and Snyder had stopped to eat at a restaurant where Heatley reportedly had one or two beers. (Blood test results won't be known for several weeks.)
Heatley's wreck is a blow for the NHL. He was rookie of the year in 2002 and All-Star Game MVP last season. With his offensive skills and gap-toothed smile, he was seen as the heir to Mario Lemieux as the NHL's marquee player. Snyder's death will leave the team even more shaken. Says coach Bob Hartley, "We're human beings, and we're a young team, so to say that our minds are 100 percent on the game would be totally false."