Billionaire Convicted Again for Fatal Crash


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) – John Goodman, heir to a billion-dollar air-conditioning fortune, was convicted again Tuesday of vehicular homicide charges in a retrial that stirred up memories of twisted metal from his February 2010 crash.
     The new jury found that the wealthy heir and polo club owner was driving drunk when his Bentley Continental slammed into an oncoming vehicle, sending its driver, 23-year-old Scott Wilson, into a nearby canal, where he drowned.
     Goodman was convicted of DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide on Tuesday in Palm Beach County Court.
     Goodman had been found criminally liable for the crash in a 2012 trial, but after allegations of juror misconduct emerged, his defense team, including famed attorney Roy Black, successfully argued for a retrial.
     Goodman waited on house arrest in his mansion for the retrial to commence this month.
     The new jury heard that Goodman allegedly ran a stop sign and collided with Wilson’s car, knocking it into the canal, and that Goodman walked away from the scene while the engineering school graduate was trapped in the water.
     Goodman’s lawyers in the retrial rehashed the defense team’s argument from the first trial: that Goodman stumbled away from the scene in search of a phone to call for help, disoriented and unaware Wilson was stuck in the canal.
     Goodman’s attorneys argued that although Goodman had accumulated a $212 bar bill at the polo hangout The Player’s Club that night, he had been handing out drinks and had not become intoxicated himself.
     In his closing arguments at the retrial, Goodman’s attorney Douglas Duncan stood next to an enlarged copy of the bar bill and stated that most of the 18 purchased shots were given to Goodman’s associates and polo players at the bar.
     “Every witness that saw Mr. Goodman right before he left The Player’s Club testified that … he was neither impaired nor intoxicated,” Duncan told the jury.
     It was only after the crash that Goodman became intoxicated, when he wandered into an unoccupied, liquor-stocked barn room down the road from the crash site and drank to numb his injuries before calling police, the defense argued.
     Goodman’s attorneys also claimed that the brakes on Goodman’s Bentley malfunctioned.
     Prosecutors prevented engineering tests for the retrial by prematurely releasing the vehicle from their custody and allowing the vehicle to be destroyed, Goodman’s attorneys said.
     In the final moments of the retrial, Chief Assistant State Attorney Alan Johnson animatedly rebutted the defense’s points, at times banging on his podium while he asked the jurors to rely on “common sense.”
     “[Goodman] had an obligation to look for what he hit, and had he stayed at the scene, perhaps … Scott Wilson might be alive today,” Johnson said.
     During her closing argument, Assistant State Attorney Sherri Collins presented a detailed account of Goodman’s alleged drinking throughout the night of the crash. She ended by saying: “We ask you to find [Goodman] accountable for his actions that night because everyone has to follow the same laws, even John Goodman.”
     The prosecutors repeatedly pointed out that Goodman’s blood-alcohol level was measured at .177, more than twice the legal limit, three hours after the accident.
     On Tuesday, a day into deliberation, the jury returned a guilty verdict.
     The aggravating factor of failure to render aid was affirmed for the DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide counts, which bumps up both counts from second-degree felonies to first-degree felonies under Florida law.
     Goodman’s sentencing is pending; in the 2012 trial, he received a 16-year prison term.
     Before the fatal crash, Goodman was perhaps best known as the founder of the International Polo Club Palm Beach, where the annual U.S. Open Polo Championship is held.
     Wilson, a longtime Wellington resident, was an aspiring engineer and graduate of the University of Central Florida. He was in town to celebrate his sister’s birthday.
     The Wilson family’s wrongful death lawsuit against Goodman and The Player’s Club was settled in 2012, court records show.
     In a move that gained worldwide media attention, Goodman allegedly tried to shield his fortune by adopting his girlfriend, so she could become a beneficiary of a family trust.

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