Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bears' Briggs: 'I panicked' after crash

— Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said Tuesday that he panicked when he crashed his new Lamborghini along a highway and initially reported his car stolen after abandoning the mangled vehicle.

Briggs, speaking to reporters after practice, said he called a tow truck after leaving the scene early Monday morning and then reported his 2007 Murcielago was stolen.

"When it happened, the first thing I did was, obviously, I panicked," Briggs said. "I didn't want there to be a big scene there. And so I left the scene. When I left, I called the tow truck. I also was startled, and I called to report that my car was stolen. Within probably 10 minutes, I called back and accepted responsibility for what I did because it was ridiculous in the first place."

Illinois State Police said they have no record of Briggs reporting a stolen vehicle. They said Briggs placed a 911 call at around 4 a.m. Monday, after initially saying he did not call police until sometime between 8 a.m. and 9.

But Master Sgt. Luis Gutierrez said Briggs gave "no indication of his car being stolen" during either call.

Illinois police found the abandoned vehicle, which had hit a light pole and a concrete bridge support, alongside the Edens Expressway on the city's North Side around 3:15 a.m.

Briggs was charged with leaving the scene of an accident, a misdemeanor, and was given traffic citations for failure to give immediate notice of an accident and improper lane usage when he met with police on Monday afternoon. He was released after posting $100 bond and is scheduled to appear Oct. 4 in a Cook County court. Leaving the scene carries a maximum 364 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, Gutierrez said.

No other cars were involved in the incident and no one was with Briggs, he said.

Briggs said he was relieved no one was hurt after he lost control of the car and apologized to the organization and the fans during his brief address to the media.

He answered one question about whether the incident changed him, saying, "It did change me, absolutely. I'm very lucky to have made it out the way that I did, very lucky. I appreciate every day. The first thing I did when I got back here was hug every one of my teammates and tell them that I love them because you never know what's going to happen."

Then, he walked away as reporters yelled questions.

Briggs did not address a TV station's report that he had visited two Chicago clubs before the crash, although the owner of one — Level — said he was not there. "He comes here frequently, but he was not here the night of the car accident," Mike Bloem said.

Gutierrez reiterated Tuesday that "it's undetermined" if alcohol was involved and said, "We're not pursuing that at this point."

Briggs' attorney Frank Himel said he wasn't sure how his client would plead. He also said he was not sure where Briggs had been or if he had been drinking.

"I never asked him any of these questions," Himel said. "If I did, I don't know how he could answer those questions."

Although coach Lovie Smith has said the team will not discipline Briggs, the league is looking into the incident.

The crash came after a turbulent offseason in which the Pro Bowl linebacker threatened to hold out — at first for the season, then 10 games — because the Bears placed the franchise player tag on him. He also asked the team to remove the label or trade him.

Briggs ultimately accepted the one-year, $7.2 million franchise tender offer late last month, ending the drama. He had boycotted the media since he arrived at training camp, but that ended Tuesday, when he walked toward reporters as he exited the field.

He initially misspoke, saying the accident occurred Sunday morning. He said he was sorry his teammates and coaches were "questioned for something they had nothing to do with."

And he had a message for the fans: "I am OK. My car's not OK, but I am."

Smith said Briggs wanted to address the media on Monday, but he left practice early to meet with police.

"Lance isn't a guy that's trying to run from anything," Smith said. "He told us what's happened, and he's going to face the consequences — if there are any from there. You have to deal with what happens in life and that's what he's doing."

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