Nick Hogan is drifting to jail.
Angst-ridden, but appearing ready to accept his fate, the son of pro-wrestling legend Hulk Hogan pleaded no contest today to a felony charge of reckless driving involving serious bodily injury. The plea, entered in a Pinellas County, Fla., courtroom, stemmed from an August car crash that left passenger John Graziano in critical condition.
"Every single day I think about the accident…and pray for John every chance I get," said Hogan, whose real name is Nick Bollea. "There will never be a day in my life where I ever will forget this. I know for a fact that I've apologized to the Grazianos…I do genuinely mean that, I'm terribly sorry."
But Judge Philip Federico showed little mercy, sentencing the 17-year-old to eight months in county jail along with five years' probation and 500 hours of community service for drag-racing under the influence of alcohol and causing the Aug. 26 wreck.
Federico also mandated a no-alcohol period for the duration of probation, ordered Hogan's license be revoked for the next three years and required the Hogan Knows Best star to attend DUI school within the first year.
Hogan was remanded into deputies' custody and will begin serving his sentence immediately concurrent with his probation.
Graziano, a 22-year-old Marine who had just completed a tour of duty in Iraq, remains comatose. Graziano, who wasn't wearing a seatbelt, may have suffered brain damage caused by swelling of his brain. His family was on hand to ask the judge to come down hard on the younger Hogan.
Federico imposed the sentence despite citing a letter written by Hogan in which he said he understood the consequences of what he had done and was willing to face whatever punishment the judge decreed.
"I think he's learned and understands that the kind of driving and history of driving record he had will not be tolerated in the future," said Federico. "I think there is an understanding of what happened and there's an early acceptance of responsibility."
Earlier in the hearing, Assistant State Attorney Scott Rosenwasser, at the urging of the Hogan family, initially asked the judge for the five years' probation, though with severe conditions including a revocation of his driving privileges.
"All of the witnesses I spoke to, each one was very clear that the defendant's driving was reckless," said Assistant State Attorney Scott Rosenwasser. "The speed at which he drove on those wet roads on those wet days was completely unacceptable."
The prosecutor cited several speeding tickets Hogan received in the two years prior to the crash, when he was clocked driving 30-40 miles per hour over the speed limit.
"What I want the defendant to know…is that this was not an accident. For it to be an accident…you have to believe that this was some act of God. But if you look at his driving history and the choices he made on Aug. 27, you can indicate that this was not an accident," said Rosenwasser. "He was the one who made the choice to drive the way he did down the road."
After a stone-faced Hogan watched footage of the wrecked yellow Supra in the courtroom which John Graziano was pulled out of, his father, Ed Graziano, made a statement to the court.
"John was everything I hoped and dreamed he could be. He was healthy safe and strong and a hero. A United States Marine and a hero to his county," the elder Graziano said before enumerating all his son's medals. "However, on Aug. 26, 2007 everything changed because of the senseless acts of recklessness by Nick Bollea...Not only did he destroy my son's life but also those that John loved. What al-Qaida couldn't do to my son, Bollea did in minutes."
"My life consists of 10 hours each day watching my son suffer…Nick's life will go on, however, it is still unknown whether my son will come home let alone survive. He'll need round-the-clock nursing care for the rest of his life."
Graziano then called on the judge to bring down the hammer on Hogan
"Nick seems to believe he can get away with anything, and it's time for us to put a stop to it. Nick is a repeat offender and every time he gets away with it he becomes emboldened…every time he gets behind the wheel he takes it to the extreme."
That was followed by tearful testimony from other Graziano family members relating the loss they suffered due to Hogan's "irresponsible actions."
Afterwards, the Hulkster, whose real name is Terry Bollea, spoke on behalf of his beleaguered son.
"Our family has been devastated and pretty much torn apart by this situation also. You need to understand that John was like a family member to us, and he was at our house all the time. I watched his relationship day in and day out, the way he interacted with our son and my daughter, Brooke. He celebrated his last birthday with us.
"I know it's not easy for Nick to fall into the shadow of being a celebrity's son, and the way I watch the press and stuff here today, it's not true. But my son has been unfairly attacked by the media simply because of his on-air personality," he continued. "Nick is not the person that he's been asked to be portrayed on TV. People think it was reality, but it was a scripted show. But what people see on TV, it's just a persona. His on-air persona, but it's not really who Nick is. Nick is kind, he's gentle and compassionate, and doesn't have a bad bone in his body."
He concluded: "My son has really been deeply affected by what occurred in this accident...what I would ask you, your Honor, is that...He be judged fairly."Sister Brooke tearfully told the judge how Nick and John were as close as brothers and confided how the sibling's newfound celebrity via their reality show has helped tear the two families apart to the point where they're "becoming enemies."
(Originally published May 9, 2008, at 11:38 a.m. PT.)