Health mogul Roger Wittenberns and his girlfriend are suspected of drinking in downtown Delray Beach early Wednesday afternoon before zooming north in their matching yellow high-performance luxury sports cars.
Meanwhile, J. Gerald Smith, an 82-year-old Uber driver, was headed home to Boynton Beach, Florida, where his wife had dinner on the table for him. Smith was crossing Federal Highway west at First Street when Wittenberns’ speeding Lamborghini struck the front of Smith’s Buick Enclave, Delray Police say.
Witnesses say Wittenberns, 60, was ejected from his yellow Lamborghini, but survived. Smith, however, died soon after at Delray Beach Medical Center.
“I made him dinner and he didn’t come home,” Gerald’s wife Eloise Smith said, with her voice shaking. “Until I see his body, it’s like he just went out into space.”
Peggy Ann McQuiggin, 61, was driving a yellow Porsche alongside Wittenberns during the crash. She abandoned the car in the parking lot of Anthony’s Coal Fire Pizza, which faces the crash site, and fled, police say. They later found her at her Delray Beach home, which she shares with Wittenberns, in the Vista Del Mar neighborhood east of the Intracoastal Waterway. Officers spoke to her briefly at her house, but she refused to provide an official statement.
Investigators say alcohol and speeding were factors in the crash, the aftermath of which was captured in a Facebook Live video by Delray Beach resident Bill Bathurst.
“Look at that wheel,” Bathurst told The Palm Beach Post, referring to a wheel of Smith’s Buick, turned almost entirely onto its side. “You can see just how incredible the impact was.”
It’s “too soon to tell” whether Wittenberns or McQuiggin face any criminal charges, said Dani Moschella, police spokeswoman. Investigators will look into the case and hand all information over to the State Attorney’s Office, which will decide whether to pursue charges.
An Uber spokesman said Smith was ‘active and highly’ on the ride-hailing app.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of J. Gerald Smith,” the spokesperson said. “Our thoughts are with his friends and family.”
Recent reviews called Smith “lovely” and “very professional.”
A road ripe for speeding
Stacey Feldman, who lives around the corner from the crash, came outside just after it happened. In the past, Feldman has spoken to police and emailed city leaders about that intersection, which sees traffic crashes often, she said. The stretch of road is limited in the number of stops.
“Very tragic,” Feldman said. “Something needs to be done. They need to put a traffic light up. It won’t solve everything, but it will help a great deal.”
People often speed north on Federal Highway, noted Bathurst, who coincidentally founded a group called Human Powered Delray, which advocates for pedestrian and street safety.
“Even if there had been a light at that intersection, it wouldn’t have changed that scenario,” Bathurst said. “(They) were going so fast that that driver probably never saw them coming.”
The speed limit on Federal Highway in downtown Delray Beach is 35 miles per hour. It isn’t clear how fast Wittenberns and McQuiggin were going, but witnesses told police they were speeding.
The crash was captured on surveillance footage from cameras at neighboring businesses, according to police. They were still reviewing the footage Thursday.
Wittenberns a fan of luxury cars
Wittenberns, founder of Diversified Health and Fitness, a Fort Lauderdale-based holding company that owns several health clubs and fitness centers, remains in critical condition, but is conscious in the Intensive Care Unit at Delray Medical Center. Wittenberns told police he and McQuiggin had spent the afternoon eating and drinking downtown before driving.
Wittenberns moved to Delray Beach in early 2014, after selling his Fort Lauderdale mansion for $6.5 million and buying a gated $2.1 million home within walking distance of Delray’s coastline, according to property records. On Thursday, the black gates to his home were shut with a Hummer parked in the brick-tiled driveway.
Wittenberns is one of several who lost money, at least $300,000, in Scott Rothstein’s multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme uncovered in 2009, The Post reported.
Wittenberns often posted photos of luxury vehicles, including his yellow Lamborghini, and specialty car shows on his Facebook page, which was apparently taken down Thursday afternoon.
He was ticketed in Broward County in 2012 for apparently speeding through a school zone, going 28 mph with a speed limit of 15 mph, in a Maserati, according to court records.
A family member of Wittenberns referred all comments to criminal defense attorney Mitchell Beers, hired to represent the family. Beers declined to comment on the crash.
Beers has represented several high-profile clients in Palm Beach County:
- In 2013, he was the lawyer for former Safe Harbor Animal Sanctuary director Kay-Lynette Roca following her controversial firing and a subsequent investigation.
- Beers represented one of the defendants in a case where three employees were killed in the kitchen of a Venezuelan restaurant in 2002.
- In 1997, Beers represented a Delray Beach man, Mark Snyder, who had been charged with vehicular homicide and manslaughter by culpable negligence in the May 1996 death of 37-year-old Regina Ann Cassera at the intersection of Congress and Atlantic avenues. The man, Beers said, had suffered an epileptic seizure, which caused him to speed through the red light and collide with a minivan driven by Cassera’s husband. Snyder was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to more than 15 years in prison.
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Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Kristina Webb and Staff Researcher Melanie Mena contributed to this report.