“It sounded like a bomb exploded,” Igor Vishnyakov said Sunday as he surveyed the wreckage of the Hayground Road house he shares with his wife, Sasha Pivovarova, and their 4-year-old daughter. “The house shook. We were sleeping. It was 1:15 in the morning.”
The bomb was a 2006 Mercedes-Benz driven by Alec Wasser, 21, whose parents own a Fifth Avenue residence in Manhattan and a house on Swan’s Neck Lane, a cul-de-sac a little more than 100 yards away from the crash.
According to Southampton Town police, Mr. Wasser was drunk when he lost control of the car, which had a female passenger inside, at the fork between Mecox and Hayground Roads.
“There are no skid marks,” Mr. Vishnyakov pointed out as he walked through broken glass and burnt shingles of his house with two reporters. Also on hand and surveying the damage was Edward Burke Jr., an attorney for Mr. Wasser.
The car plowed through two fir trees, a fence and its concrete base, and a small house-like structure over a large Buddha sculpture before slamming into the main house. If not for the concrete, Mr. Vishnyakov said, he believes that he, or his wife, or his daughter, or all three would have been killed. The Buddha was knocked over but still intact. “Buddha saved our life,” Mr. Vishnyakov said, only half in jest.
“It was so surreal,” he said of the moment he opened his eyes. “Normally, I see the bushes, the sculpture, the little house.” Now, it was a blazing car he was looking at, about four yards from where he lay.
Mr. Vishnyakov pointed at the master bedroom. The car crashed through a wall, becoming embedded between the couple’s bed and their daughter’s playroom. He said Mr. Wasser stumbled out of the burning car, mumbling. At first he thought Mr. Wasser was talking to him, but then he realized that he was speaking to a young woman in the passenger seat.
Mr. Vishnyakov could see that the woman had an injured arm. They could not open the passenger-side door because it was too close to a wall, so Mr. Wasser got the woman out through the driver’s side. “They were drunk. The girl was drunk,” Mr. Vishnyakov said.
Mr. Vishnyakov grabbed a fire extinguisher and attempted to put out the flames coming from the car’s engine, “until my wife convinced me to stay as far as possible from the car.” The fire, which quickly spread to the house, was being whipped in the ice-cold winds.
The couple are both artists. Mr. Vishnyakov currently has a show of his work at the Tripoli Gallery in Southampton. His wife is also a fashion model.
“We lost a lot of artwork,” Mr. Vishnyakov said, mentioning in particular a portrait of his wife and daughter that he had commissioned. “It was my favorite work.” Also destroyed were two closets filled with Prada clothing.
“Our daughter is traumatized,” Ms. Pivovarova said. The girl, who attends prekindergarten in the area, was at a friend’s house while her parents toured the wreckage.
There was at least one moment of relief. Alfred Callahan III, the second assistant chief of the Southampton Fire Department, found the family’s big black tomcat, Oolong, about an hour into the call. "The homeowner said the cat likes to hide around the kitchen, so when the smoke lightened up a little bit we did a search. I found the cat behind a toilet in a bathroom next to the kitchen."
"It's all the family was asking about,” Mr. Callahan said. “I'm just glad we were able to find it in time." Bridgehampton Fire Department's Chief Jeff White was in charge at the scene.
Most of the house was built in 1968, the couple said. The exception is a section dating back to colonial times, and that part was impacted the least. “But the doors don’t close anymore,” Mr. Vishnyakov said. The plumbing was wrecked, and there are now large holes in the floor. The stench of fire is everywhere.
Mr. Burke told Mr. Vishnyakov that Mr. Wasser’s father, Gregg Wasser, a real estate developer, had sent him. “He wants me to relay to you that he looks forward to talking with you.” The intent, he said, is to repair the damage and replace what was lost.
Before traveling to the site of the fire, Mr. Burke had stood next to his client as he was being arraigned in Southampton Town Justice Court. Mr. Wasser told Justice Deborah Kooperstein that he was a student at Marymount Manhattan College after having previously attended Bucknell University.
Justice Kooperstein told him she was suspending his license for one year because he had refused to take a breath test at police headquarters. “I have the ability to deem you a dangerous driver,” she warned him, which would leave him without recourse as far as his driving privileges go. Bail was set at $3,000, which Mr. Wasser’s father posted.
Outside the courthouse, Mr. Burke said he had been speaking with the district attorney’s office, acknowledging that, given the extent of the damage, more charges may be in the offing.