It’s been 25 years since one of the most tragic events in Detroit sports history.
Just two weeks after the Detroit Red Wings ended a decades-long championship drought, a limo carrying two of the team’s stars from their 1997 Stanley Cup team crashed into a tree.
Vladimir Konstantinov and Slava Fetisov were the two team members injured in the crash. Konstantinov suffered serious injuries, being placed on a ventilator to keep him breathing.
Fetisov was also injured, but was in less serious condition, suffering chest injuries as well as a bruised lung.
The two Russian-born players were among the best at their craft. Konstantinov was a finalist for the NHL’s Norris trophy as best defenseman. Fetisov is still considered one of the greatest defenseman in Russian hockey history.
Devin Scillian caught up with many members of the Red Wings from that season — watch his full story in the video player above.
“Vladi was a step ahead of me,” said fellow ’89 draft pick Nicklas Lidstrom. “He was playing the game real hard. Whether he was playing against (enforcer) Stu Grimson or going up against Gretzky or (Mario) Lemieux, he would play the same way. He was never afraid of laying a hit on a tough guy. He was an excellent skater, strong on his feet. (He was) fearless on the ice.”
Night of the limo crash — June 13, 1997
Both players, along with a Red Wings masseur, were in the limo when it veered off Woodward Avenue and crashed into a tree at about 9:30 pm on June 13, 1997, in Birmingham, Mich.
The three team members and the driver were taken to Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.
Several Red Wings players, along with the team’s owner, Mike Ilitch, went to the hospital following the accident, which occurred after a team golf outing and party.
Konstantinov, 30 years old at the time of the crash, would never play hockey again, suffering serious head injuries, keeping him wheelchair bound.
The team masseur, Sergei Mnatsakanov, was paralyzed from the waist down.
Fetisov, who had less serious injuries, would return to the Red Wings, helping to lead them to another Stanley Cup win in 1998.
The driver, Richard Gnida, who fell asleep at the wheel, was hospitalized and later charged after blood tests showed evidence of marijuana in his blood. He was eventually only charged with driving with a suspended license and spent nine months in jail.
“You shattered lives,” District Judge Kimberly Small told Gnida. “Based on your behavior, you have a serious drug and alcohol problem. And what scares me is you don’t know it.”
During the civil suit against the car dealership that sold the limo to Gnida’s employer, Konstantinov’s trial lawyer argued that the dealership was negligent because the seat belts were inaccessible.
After 90 minutes of deliberation, the jury ruled in favor of the dealership.
Konstantinov received a share of a $2 million judgment from the limo owner’s insurance carrier, which under Michigan no-fault law is also paying his medical, rehab, and residential care expenses.
After the Red Wings won the 1998 Stanley Cup, the team celebrated with Konstantinov, who was on the ice celebrating with the team while in a wheelchair.
Related: New Michigan law puts Red Wings great Konstantinov’s 24/7 care in jeopardy
In a 2014 interview, Fetisov said he thought the driver crashed the limo on purpose.
“I think this guy did it on purpose,” Fetisov told Devin Scillian right before the 2014 Olympic Games in Russia.
Watch this WDIV archive footage from the crash back in 1997 below:
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