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Judge clears former Leafs captain Rick Vaive of drunk driving charge

Former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Rick Vaive adjusts his tie as he enters a courthouse where he is expected to receive his sentence on impaired driving charges in Newmarket, Ont., on Thursday, April 12, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michelle Siu

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Former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Rick Vaive adjusts his tie as he enters a courthouse where he is expected to receive his sentence on impaired driving charges in Newmarket, Ont., on Thursday, April 12, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michelle Siu

NEWMARKET, Ont. - Former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Rick Vaive was cleared of drunk driving charges Thursday after a trial that shone a spotlight on intimate details of his life and medical history.

Vaive's sluggishness the night of his arrest could have been due to other causes, such as fatigue, said Justice Anne-Marie Hourigan, who found there wasn't proof beyond reasonable doubt his ability to drive was impaired by alcohol.

Though breathalyzer tests showed the retired NHL player was well past the legal limit for blood alcohol, several factors _ including delays in taking the tests and Vaive's testimony _ cast doubt on the results, she told a Newmarket, Ont., court.

The arresting officer's observations weren't enough to disprove Vaive's explanation that his behaviour stemmed from "fatigue brought on by two days of golf (and) a two-hour drive," she said, particularly since a video played during trial showed him steady and lucid at the police station.

Vaive, who wore a charcoal grey suit and striped pink tie, wouldn't comment on the verdict, but defence lawyer Calvin Barry said it was a happy end to an emotionally difficult trial.

"Rick's very happy, it takes a lot of pressure off his shoulders," he said outside court. "He was very, very upset through this whole ordeal."

The 52-year-old was arrested on July 14, 2009, while driving home from a golf game in Gravenhurst, Ont. The game was part of a two-day trip with several other hockey players, including Dennis Maruk and Bill Derlago, who testified for the defence.

Police pulled him over in Vaughan, just north of Toronto, after someone called 911 to report erratic driving.

He was charged with impaired driving and driving with over 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood.

During trial, Vaive testified he took the wheel after drinking six beers, twice his usual self-imposed limit of three. But he maintained he wasn't drunk and felt fine to tackle the roughly three-hour drive to his home in Oakville, Ont.

Court heard the arresting officer noted Vaive smelled of alcohol, had bloodshot eyes and "a wet stain on the crotch of his shorts roughly six inches in diameter." He was also described as fumbling with his documents and swaying on his feet while walking to the cruiser.

But footage of Vaive at the station showed he "at no time is observed to be stumbling or swaying or off-balance," evidence Hourigan said "speaks for itself."

She gave Vaive credit for his "candid and straightforward manner" while discussing "humiliating and embarrassing" details of his life.

The former hockey player testified he suffers from chronic joint pain, sleep apnea and a bladder condition that makes it hard to control his urination and forces him to carry empty Gatorade bottles in his car.

He told court the condition _ not alcohol _ caused him to wet himself while driving that night, because the bottle was already full.

He also said he takes anti-anxiety medication but the dose is too low to affect his driving.

Vaive became the first Maple Leaf to score 50 goals in a season, recording 54 in 1981-82. He went on to surpass the 50-goal plateau the following two seasons.

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