Polo patron and multimillionaire John Goodman has kept a low profile since Feb. 12, when he was involved in a fatal car crash in Wellington. But attorneys familiar with traffic homicide cases say Goodman's high-priced legal team likely is hard at work building possible defense strategies in the event that he is charged in the incident.
Goodman, heir to a Houston fortune made from his father's air-conditioning manufacturing company that sold for $1.43 billion in 2004, has not been charged with a crime.
The Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office is awaiting test results from blood drawn after the crash before the office makes a decision, traffic homicide prosecutor Ellen Roberts said.
Goodman had been at the Players Club Bar & Restaurant before the crash, restaurant general manager Paul Griffo said. A Sheriff's Office report indicates that alcohol or drugs may have been a factor in the crash.
Roberts also is awaiting a final accident report from the Sheriff's Office, which could take months.
The Sheriff's Office said that just after 1 a.m., Goodman, driving his Bentley convertible, ran the stop sign at 120th Avenue South and Lake Worth Road.
Goodman's $200,000 sports car barreled into the side of a Hyundai driven by 23-year-old Scott Patrick Wilson, a University of Central Florida graduate just minutes from arriving at his mother's Wellington home after driving from Orlando, according to the initial crash report.
Bouquets of flowers adorn the crash site, including one with black-and-gold beads and a UCF Knights pin.
The impact flipped Wilson's car upside down and into a nearby canal, according to the report. Wilson was pronounced dead at the scene.
Both men were wearing seatbelts, the report states.
"When [law enforcement] first arrived, Goodman was at a trailer about one-fourth mile south of the crash," Roberts said. "He stopped there to use the phone."
The trailer is on the property of a boarding and training stable off a dirt road on 120th Avenue. Authorities have not yet released the 911 tape. A woman who lives in the trailer and works at the stable declined to comment on the accident and wouldn't say if it was she or Goodman who phoned 911.
Almost immediately after the crash, Goodman hired famed Miami attorney Roy Black, who has defended William Kennedy Smith and Rush Limbaugh. Black could not be reached for comment despite attempts by telephone.
Goodman is not speaking to the media, but he has hired powerhouse public relations firm Sitrick and Co., which has handled crisis management for Limbaugh and the Catholic Diocese of Los Angeles. In a statement released by Sitrick and Co., Goodman expressed "sympathy and regret" for Wilson's family.
Though the investigation is ongoing, there is conjecture in the legal community about possible defense strategies should blood tests confirm that Goodman was using drugs or alcohol the night of the crash.
The Houston Chronicle reported that Goodman's ex-wife alleged in documents in their 2008 divorce case that Goodman had a cocaine problem and that she was concerned for the welfare of their two children. She asked the court to require periodic drug testing, but the court refused.
Defense attorney Robert Gershman, who once worked in the traffic homicide division of the State Attorney's Office, said Black and his team likely would conduct their own parallel investigation.
"The [state's] investigation will take some time, but I'm sure the defense is preparing with accident reconstruction and experts of their own, looking at the car and the crash scene," he said.
Former Assistant State Attorney Craig Williams said he believes that Black and his legal team will work to attack any positive blood results.
"They will say it was a bad test kit, a bad sample," he said. "They will try and use accident-reconstruction experts to show it was [the victim's] fault. They will focus on attacking the blood and the crash scene."
If Goodman is charged, his deep pockets could work both for and against him in the criminal justice system, according to defense attorney Jason Weiss, a former prosecutor who has represented several DUI manslaughter defendants.
" O.J. Simpson got the benefit [of wealth] because he was famous and had this public persona and people didn't believe he was capable [of murder]," Weiss said. "But sometimes it makes everybody extra careful to make it not seem like they are being treated more favorably."
Roberts, the traffic homicide prosecutor, and Black are no courtroom strangers. The two squared off in 1991 when Roberts co-prosecuted William Kennedy Smith on a rape charge. A Palm Beach County jury acquitted Smith.
Black is known for his low-key demeanor in the courtroom. In 2004, he negotiated a plea deal for a Boca Raton accountant who shot and killed a 16-year-old boy playing a midnight prank. The deal — a guilty plea to a manslaughter with a firearm charge in exchange for 10 years' probation and 1,250 community service hours — came less than 24 hours after an eight-person jury was seated. Four of the panelists owned firearms.
Roberts is a seasoned prosecutor with a reputation for being as thorough as she is tough. Williams, who recently went into defense practice after 16 years with the state, calls her "the best in the state."
"That woman has more knowledge and experience than anybody else," Williams said. "She's a bulldog. You can stick her 500 times and she'll bite back every time."
WPTV-Ch. 5 contributed to this report.