The visibly shaken actress, who was facing up to a year in county jail, pleaded no contest in a Los Angeles courtroom Tuesday to a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charge.
In exchange for her plea, she was sentenced to three years' probation, a one-year suspension of her license, a $2,800 fine and a whopping 750 hours of community service. She was also ordered to make a public-service announcement.
The 29-year-old former Noxzema Girl, accompanied to the courthouse by her attorney, Harland Braun, and her fiancÚ, Rush Hour director Brett Ratner, nodded her head somberly as the judge spoke to her. Several times during the hearing she wiped tears from her eyes.
While Gayheart entered and exited without speaking to reporters, Braun held an impromptu press conference outside the courthouse, where he described how devastated his client was.
"It was the worst thing that could ever have happenend to her, killing a child," the lawyer said. "She feels terrible."
He said she will likely perform her community service by addressing schoolchildren, parents and motorists on proper street-crossing safety and driving awareness. Her PSA will also pick up that theme.
"They're thinking about a video that really highlights the dangers of jaywalking, of drivers who don't stop when other cars have stopped, [and] parents who don't properly educate their children," said Braun, who added that the Gayheart did not catch any breaks from the judge because of her celebrity.
The ex-Beverly Hills, 90210 actress was cruising through Hollywood on June 13 in a friend's '96 Jeep Grand Cherokee when she struck 9-year-old Jorge Cruz Jr. as he jaywalked across the street.
While several cars stopped to let him go, Gayheart allegedly swerved around the traffic and into a two-way left-turn lane, hitting the boy. The child was taken to L.A.'s Children's Hospital where he died the next day.
Police interviewed Gayheart at the scene of the accident, but did not arrest her because she was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. After investigating the case, the Los Angeles City Attorney decided to file the manslaughter charge against Gayheart in October.
The boy's parents, Jorge Cruz and Silvia Martinez, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit August 6 against Gayheart, citing her negligence as the reason for their son's death. Braun told reporters outside the courtroom that Gayheart was fully insured and he believed the civil suit would be settled without going to trial.
Gayheart, who paid for Cruz's hospital and funeral expenses, has also offered to pay for grief counseling for the parents, Braun added.
The Kentucky-born Gayheart first found fame doing ads as the "fresh-faced" Noxzema Girl, before turning to acting. She played Luke Perry's wife on Beverly Hills, 90210, had a role in the short-lived ABC series Wasteland and starred in such teen flicks as Urban Legend, Scream 2 and 1999's Jawbreaker.
She's due back in court March 27 for a progress report.