Police to Seek License Review After Zuckerman Struck Two Cars

Woman says mogul’s insurance company won’t pay value of totaled Ford
Charlene Peele, right, with her son, Alex, will be without a car soon when one provided by Mortimer Zuckerman’s insurance company is taken away. Doug Kuntz

    A woman whose car was damaged beyond repair on Main Street in East Hampton Village on Aug. 11 will not receive what she believes is her vehicle’s full value from Mortimer Zuckerman’s insurance company, although Mr. Zuckerman struck her car with his 2010 Lexus, and then drove away.

    This was not the first time recently that Mr. Zuckerman, the publisher of the New York Daily News and U.S. News and World Report, struck a vehicle in the village and did not stay at the scene.

    On July 14, according to East Hampton Village police, Mr. Zuckerman, driving the same Lexus, side-swiped a 2009 Chevrolet at the intersection of the Montauk Highway and Baiting Hollow Road. He has been charged with leaving the scene of an accident in this instance but was not ticketed in the August incident. On both occasions, both on Sunday afternoons, conditions were described as clear and bright.

    In addition to the two accidents, it was learned this week that Mr. Zuckerman was issued a ticket by East Hampton Village police for allegedly running a stop sign on June 4, also a weekend afternoon. That day, he was said to be driving a 2001 Mercedes-Benz.

    Charlene F. Peele of Quogue, a single mother of two who manages the Starbucks on Main Street in East Hampton Village, has been told in e-mails from Mr. Zuckerman’s insurance broker, Bedford Insurance, that she will be paid $13,055 for her now-useless 2009 Ford Fusion, although she has $17,700 outstanding on its loan. “I’m going to work in Coconut Grove in Miami. I’m screwed,” she said.

    On Tuesday, the driver of the 2009 Chevrolet that Mr. Zuckerman struck on July 14, Matthew E. Kirch of Amagansett, explained what happened.
    He and his wife, Florence Kirch, were approaching the end of a long drive east from Kennedy Airport, where they had dropped off their grandson. Mr. Zuckerman’s Lexus was behind their vehicle when the traffic light at the intersection turned red. Mr. Kirch said he put his foot on the brake. “I stopped. He went off to the right. He grazed the side of our car. When the light turned, he pulled out, in front of us.”

    “It shocked us,” he said.

    “Follow him, follow him,” Ms. Kirch told her husband, who did just that. Mr. Zuckerman drove down Woods Lane, then made the left turn onto Main Street, with Mr. Kirch in slow pursuit. “We were right behind him. I kept beeping my horn. I didn’t understand why he wouldn’t pull over.”

    The two cars went through the village on Main Street, until an officer pulled the Lexus over at Pantigo Road and Egypt Lane, where Mr. Zuckerman was charged with leaving the scene of an accident. The police accident report states that Mr. Zuckerman knew he had hit the other vehicle, and it blames Mr. Zuckerman for “driver inattention.” It also states that Mr. Zuckerman was following the car in front of him too closely.

    Mr. Kirch said he has since received a check from Bedford to completely cover the damage to his car.

    In the more recent episode, Mr. Zuckerman was said by police to have left either a business card or a note on the wrecked Ford Fusion, then left the scene. The accident was logged at 3:30 p.m.

    According to Chief Gerard Larsen, a witness followed Mr. Zuckerman after he drove away to Lily Pond Lane, with police arriving at his oceanfront house almost immediately afterward.

    “Police pulled into the driveway right away,” Chief Larsen said, and an officer spoke with Mr. Zuckerman, who did not appear intoxicated. The report says that Mr. Zuckerman told the officer that he had “looked away from the roadway” in the moments before the accident. While the officer reported that carelessness led to the accident, it was not an offense that required ticketing.

   “We’re going to recommend that Mort Zuckerman have his driver’s record reviewed,” Chief Gerard Larsen said this week. He had discovered the July accident report, as well as the June moving violation, he said on Monday, as he prepared to make just such a request of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Each of the incidents was handled by a different officer.

    In an interview last Thursday, Ms. Peele said, “I parked in the morning, 7:30, 8 o’clock. That’s typical for me on the weekends,” Ms. Peele said in an interview last 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 of the Ford Fusion with her cellphone that afternoon show the trunk 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 struck the rear right of Ms. Peele’s Ford.

    Ms. Peele said one of the witnesses to the accident happened to be a co-worker, who 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 that 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.” The impact pushed Ms. Peele’s car, which was parked opposite the East Hampton Presbyterian Church, several feet forward.

    Ms. Peele met with a sergeant at village police headquarters on Cedar Street the next day and 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.

    Last week, Ms. Peele received a packet from Bedford Insurance 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 and 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.” Numerous phone calls to Mr. Zuckerman’s office over the past week have not been returned.

    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 on Friday 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 for Starbucks for 15 years and at the East Hampton branch for four years. She is about to be transferred to Florida by the company.

    Less than a week after the Aug. 11 accident, Mr. Zuckerman was the starting pitcher for the annual Artists and Writers Softball Game in East Hampton despite nursing what was described on the sidelines that day as a cracked rib.