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Stew Leonard Sr., son sued in Caribbean speed boat death

Updated 4:20 pm, Wednesday, March 7, 2012

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  • Stew Leonard in his Norwalk, Conn. store on Monday November 2, 2009. Dairy store owner Stew Leonard Sr. is being sued by the wife of a former Westport home builder who died after being washed off Leonard’s boat in the Caribbean last year. In the lawsuit filed Wednesday, March 7, 2012, Barbara Speranza claims her husband, Robert Speranza, 73, died as the result of the reckless and negligent behavior of Leonard and his son, Thomas Leonard, in operating the 70-foot powerboat, “Stew’s Special.” Photo: Dru Nadler, File Photo
    Stew Leonard in his Norwalk, Conn. store on Monday November 2, 2009. Dairy store owner Stew Leonard Sr. is being sued by the wife of a former Westport home builder who died after being washed off Leonard’s boat in the Caribbean last year. In the lawsuit filed Wednesday, March 7, 2012, Barbara Speranza claims her husband, Robert Speranza, 73, died as the result of the reckless and negligent behavior of Leonard and his son, Thomas Leonard, in operating the 70-foot powerboat, “Stew’s Special.” Photo: Dru Nadler, File Photo

 

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Dairy store owner Stew Leonard Sr. is being sued by the wife of a former Westport home builder who died after being washed off Leonard's boat in the Caribbean last year.

In the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Superior Court, Barbara Speranza claims her husband, Robert Speranza, 73, died as the result of the reckless and negligent behavior of Leonard, who has a Westport home, and his son, Thomas Leonard, in operating the 70-foot powerboat, "Stew's Special."

"Barbara Speranza was widowed by the Leonard defendants' irresponsibility and they need to account for that," said Richard T. Meehan, who with Joel T. Faxon, represents her in the lawsuit.

Lawyers for the Leonards did not immediately return calls for comment.

According to the lawsuit, on Aug. 16, 2011, Robert Speranza was a passenger in Leonard's boat near the island of Tortola when the reckless operation of the boat caused him to be tossed overboard.

In a statement issued later to the Westport News, Leonard Sr. related: "As we got further out to sea, the waves turned from 2- to 3-foot to 5 to 6. As we were approaching Virgin Gorda, about one mile offshore, a rogue wave about 12 to 15 feet high suddenly came out of nowhere and hit the bow of the boat.

"I was behind the 10-foot-wide bulletproof windshield, which took the full force of the impact of the avalanche of water, and put my two arms up to protect my face," he said in the statement. "But both Bob (Speranza) and my son Tom were swept down to the back of the boat. Tom was able to grab onto a railing, but the torrent of water swept Bob overboard and he was left drifting unconscious in the water."

Leonard said the captain, Martijn Haasdit, dove in and was able to bring Speranza back to boat. "And we immediately began CPR, which continued for the next 30 minutes until we reached the dock in Tortola."

Meehan said the Leonards took out the boat even though they knew rough weather was on the way to the area. "The seas were building and it was not safe for the boat to be operating in those seas," he said.

A former NASA engineer, Speranza later built many of the homes on Saugatuck Island in Westport, Meehan said. He and his wife later moved to St. Maarten where they owned the Ocean Club resort.

dtepfer@ctpost.com; 203-330-6308; http:// twitter.com/dantepfer