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Judge will weigh Bollea's fate today

CLEARWATER — Nick Bollea, the son of famous wrestler Hulk Hogan, is expected to tell a judge today he won't fight the charge he faces for his role in an August car crash that critically injured his passenger, a prosecutor said.

Bollea, 17, initially pleaded not guilty to a charge of reckless driving with serious bodily injury. But Assistant State Attorney Scott Rosenwasser said Bollea is now planning to make an open plea to the court during a 1:30 p.m. hearing.

The open plea means Bollea hasn't made a deal with the prosecution and is leaving it up to the judge to determine his sentence without a trial. After the plea, Circuit Judge Philip Federico will hold a sentencing hearing to help determine Bollea's punishment.

He could receive as little as probation or as much as five years in prison, Rosenwasser said.

This won't mean the end of the Bolleas' legal woes. The family still faces a lawsuit on behalf of passenger John Graziano.

On Thursday, Nick Bollea and his mother, Linda, were seen leaving the office of his criminal attorney, J. Kevin Hayslett, around 5 p.m. Hayslett said he was too busy working on the case to speak to reporters.

"We're going to keep rolling," Hayslett said. "We've got a lot of work to do."

Hulk Hogan, whose given name is Terry Bollea, came in a separate car and left about two hours after his son and estranged wife. He declined to comment.

While the Bollea case garnered media attention because of the Bolleas' celebrity status, it touched on several concerns of parents everywhere: teen driving, underage drinking and the limits of parental responsibility.

Today's hearing will provide lawyers for both sides the opportunity to call witnesses to illustrate the human dimension of the case. Rosenwasser expects testimony from the mother, the father and one of the siblings of Graziano, the former Marine injured in the crash — all in an effort to inform the judge's sentencing decision.

"We're just going to tell the judge everything," Rosenwasser said. "The facts will speak for themselves."

Graziano suffered severe head injuries in the crash and remains at James A. Haley VA Medical Center. A part of his frontal lobe had to be removed. At last update, he was in a semiconscious state and could respond to only some stimuli.

Bollea's family is also expected to speak at the sentencing hearing.

Largo-based criminal defense attorney John Trevena, who is not connected with the case, said Bollea's decision is "somewhat unusual and extremely risky."

"You're throwing yourself on the mercy of the court, hoping the judge gives you a minimal sentence, but there's no guarantee," Trevena said. "You could get the maximum."

While the tactic can be dangerous, Joe McDermott, a St. Pete Beach lawyer, said "sometimes you really have no choice if you feel the evidence against your client is compelling enough."

Attorneys for Bollea have argued publicly in the last few months that Graziano deserves much of the responsibility for his injuries because he wasn't wearing a seat belt.

The crash happened on the night of Aug. 26, when Bollea was driving his souped-up yellow Toyota Supra on Court Street in Clearwater. He lost control and smashed into a palm tree, police said.

It was later found that he had alcohol in his blood.

Lawyers in March filed suit on Graziano's behalf, alleging three counts of negligence on the part of Terry Bollea and one count each for his wife, Linda; his son, Nick; and family friend, Daniel Jacobs. The suit was necessary, lawyers said, to provide money for Graziano's long-term care.

Witnesses to the crash say Nick Bollea was racing with the driver of a silver Viper, Jacobs, who was also charged. In February, Jacobs pleaded no contest to reckless driving and received 90 days of probation in addition to a $500 fine and a sentence of 25 hours of community service.

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Judge will weigh Bollea's fate today 05/08/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 12, 2008 12:19pm]
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