No Wheels for Worker After Mogul Wrecked Her Car

Charlene F. Peele's parked 2009 Ford Fusion was wrecked when it was struck from behind by a 2010 Lexus being driven by the real estate and publishing magnate Mortimer Zuckerman. Charlene F. Peele for The East Hampton Star

A woman whose car was damaged beyond repair when Mortimer Zuckerman, the publisher of the New York Daily News and U. S. News and World Report, driving a 2010 Lexus, struck it on Main Street in East Hampton Village on the afternoon on Aug. 11 and then drove away, according to police records, will not receive what she believes is her vehicle's full value from his insurance company.

Mr. Zuckerman, who owns an oceanfront house near Main Beach in East Hampton and was said by police to have left a note on the woman's wrecked Ford Fusion, was not ticketed in connection with the incident.

Charlene F. Peele of Quogue, a single mother who manages an East Hampton Village store, has been told by Mr. Zuckerman's insurance company that she will be paid $13,000 for the now-useless vehicle, although she owes $17,700 on her car loan.

A 3:30 p.m. 911 call from a witness that appears in the Aug. 11 police log indicated that a white Lexus struck a parked vehicle and left the scene, then continued on Ocean Avenue toward Lily Pond Lane.

According to an accident report given to Ms. Peele by East Hampton Village police, which she provided to a reporter, Mr. Zuckerman told an investigating officer that he had "looked away from the roadway" in the moments before the accident. The police report said Mr. Zuckerman left a note on Ms. Peele's Ford and that he was interviewed by police at his house.

The New York State Vehicular Traffic Law requires a driver striking an unoccupied, parked car to report the accident ". . . as soon as physically able to the nearest police station, or judicial officer." Leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident is a traffic violation punishable with a fine of up to $250 or a maximum of 15 days in jail.

Driving his car south on Main Street on a clear, sunny afternoon, Mr. Zuckerman, 76, suddenly steered right, his Lexus striking Ms. Peele's parked 2009 Ford Fusion, according to the accident report. The impact pushed Ms. Peele's car, which was parked opposite the East Hampton Presbyterian Church, several feet forward.

"I parked in the morning 7:30, 8 o'clock. That's typical for me on the weekends," Ms. Peele said in an interview on Thursday. "I got a phone call in the afternoon from the Police Department saying my car had been hit. An officer was waiting for me at the car. The car was totaled," she said.

Photographs Ms. Peele took with her cellphone that afternoon show the trunk of the Ford Fusion crushed inward, with the point of impact appearing to be on the right rear of the car, which was parked near the curb. Notations on the accident report indicate that the left front of Mr. Zuckerman's Lexus impacted with the rear right of Ms. Peele's Ford.

Ms. Peele said one of her co-workers happened to have witnessed the accident, but didn't realize whose car had been hit. The woman, a seasonal worker who has since left the area, described the crash to Ms. Peele.

"She said that he veered off the road and hit the car. She said it was an older man got out of the white car and looked at my car, and that is all she saw because she was going to work."

"He left the scene, and somebody followed the car," Ms. Peele said.

Ms. Peele met with a sergeant at village police headquarters on Cedar Street on Aug. 12. During that meeting, she was handed Mr. Zuckerman's business card. She said she had no idea who Mr. Zuckerman was.

"I wanted to contact his insurance company," she said. She spoke to Mr. Zuckerman's assistant the next day. "No problem. We've been expecting your phone call," she said she was told.

On Tuesday Ms. Peele received a packet from the Bedford Insurance Brokerage of New York City, Mr. Zuckerman's company, saying she would be paid at the book rate for the car, $13,055. She has been renting a car since the accident, first through her own insurance company, then through Mr. Zuckerman's. "It is the principle of the thing. Now I have to pay $4,000, and I don't have a car."

Ms. Peele said she does not blame Mr. Zuckerman."He may not even know this is going on." A representative of Mr. Zuckerman's said on Friday that he was not immediately available for comment.

Ms. Peele's Ford, which was taken to the East Hampton Village impound yard after the accident, was hauled to a salvage yard in Brookhaven after being declared a total loss by the insurance company. She went to Brookhaven yesterday to pick up the personal items she had left in the car, and reported that it took two men with crowbars to pry open the trunk.

Ms. Peele has worked at a chain store, which she declined to identify, in East Hampton for four years, but is about to be transferred to another store by the company, which has employed her for the past 15 years.

"My son graduated. I'm going to work in Coconut Grove in Miami. I'm screwed."

Less than a week after the accident, Mr. Zuckerman was the starting pitcher for the annual Artists-Writers charity softball game in East Hampton despite nursing what was described on the sidelines as a cracked rib. He was replaced on the mound by Mike Lupica, a Daily News sports columnist, after being hit by a line drive off an artist's bat.

East Hampton Village police normally provide accident reports to the press within one week of the occurrence. The report of this incident, which was completed on Aug. 14, has yet to be officially released.

East Hampton Village Police Chief Gerard Larsen said Friday that he was not aware of the specifics of the accident, but that he was going to speak to the officers involved to determine the exact sequence of events.
 

Mortimer Zuckerman's East Hampton oceanfront house. A Lexus parked, at left, this week appeared to have the same license plate number as the one involved in the Aug. 11 crash.Doug Kuntz
During the Artists-Writers softball game on Aug. 17 Mortimer Zuckerman was the starting pitcher for the Writers team, despite what was described as a cracked rib.Doug Kuntz