While a civil case filed against a health mogul Roger Wittenberns — who wrecked his yellow Lamborghini in a deadly Delray Beach collision — seemingly nears a close, the State Attorney’s Office is steadily building a criminal case.
Wittenberns, a retired Delray Beach resident who founded a multi-million dollar health-club empire, faces several charges that include DUI manslaughter in the Sept. 21 crash that killed 82-year-old J. Gerald Smith of Boynton Beach.
Witnesses described the moments that led up to the violent collision to police as two luxury vehicles racing on a roadway with a speed limit of just 35 mph and reckless driving, according to court documents released by the state attorney.
Meanwhile, Wittenberns, 61, settled a lawsuit filed by Smith’s wife, Eloise, for an undisclosed amount in mediation, court records show.
Eloise Smith sued shortly after the crash for an amount in excess of $15,000. It wasn’t revealed how much she was awarded in the settlement, which was negotiated confidentially in April. The case, however, remains open, according to court records.
J. Gerald Smith died at the scene after the front of his Buick Enclave was struck while he was westbound at the intersection of Northeast First Street and Federal Highway. Wittenberns was travelling north, with a yellow Porsche driven by his then-girlfriend Patty Ann McQuiggin traveling alongside his Lamborghini.
One witness, Vince Sanders, told investigators the cars appeared to be racing north on Federal Highway. Sanders was riding his bicycle along Northeast First Street when the luxury cars rushed past.
“(The Porsche) almost hit me,” Sanders told police in a recorded interview released by the state attorney.
Another witness, Taylor Lanigan, told police he was headed east on Northeast First Street just before the wreck. She crossed the intersection before Smith’s Buick did.
The speed of the two cars was so alarming, she told investigators, that she honked her horn even after safely crossing.
“I actually honked because I was frustrated that they were going so fast … I knew they were recklessly driving, in my opinion,” Lanigan said.
Witterberns’ account of the crash differs.
From a hospital bed at Delray Medical Center, where he was in critical condition following the crash, Wittenberns told police he couldn’t have been traveling more than 30 mph.
“I’m 61 years old. I’m not a speed demon,” Wittenberns said in a recorded police interview hours after the crash. “At my age, you buy a Lamborghini because it looks cool.”
Wittenberns had the right of way on Federal Highway, where there were no stop signs or traffic lights. There is, however, a stop sign posted at Northeast First Street where Smith was traveling west.
Wittenberns drove with a blood-alcohol level of 0.15, nearly twice the 0.08 legal limit, during the late afternoon crash, police say.
He told police he spent the afternoon at City Oyster restaurant on Atlantic Avenue, eating Oysters Rockefeller and drinking Long Island Iced Teas.
A server at City Oyster told police Wittenberns and McQuiggin ordered three drinks with lunch, then another drink at the bar, according to court records.
The drove separately because Wittenberns had just picked up his Lamborghini from the shop. He’d only owned the car for four months, he told police.
McQuiggin’s Porsche was ahead of Wittenberns’ Lamborghini on Federal Highway, blocking his line of sight, Wittenberns said.
“A car comes out of god knows where … It’s in a complete blind spot for me,” he said, adding that he couldn’t slam the brakes.
Wittenberns didn’t learn until the end of the 20-minute police interview that Smith died in the crash.
“Oh no. Oh no. Don’t tell me that, officer,” Wittenberns said after the officer shared the news.
Wittenberns wasn’t arrested until June 12, nine months after the wreck. He was released on $450,000 bond the following day.
Wittenberns’ attorney, Marc Shiner, said the police interview was conducted while the 61-year-old was “pumped up on medication and in critical condition.”
Shiner added that an officer acknowledges in the audio recording that Wittenberns had the right of way on the road.
“The truth will come out in the courtroom,” Shiner said. “People shouldn’t rush to judgment. Just because someone worked hard all their life and has a nice car, doesn’t mean they’re guilty.”