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Friday, August 19, 2011

Leonard Family ‘Devastated’ by Friend’s Boating Death

By James Lomuscio

UPDATE Westporter Stew Leonard Jr. said tonight that his family has been devastated by the loss of longtime friend Robert Speranza, 73, a former Westporter, who died after being swept off Stew Leonard Sr.‘s boat by a 12-foot-high “rogue wave” in the Caribbean on Tuesday.

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The 70-foot Stew’s Special which was hit by a “rogue wave.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

“My father is in shock,” he said, “and I know Bob Speranza’s family is in shock.”

“This was just a tragedy,” Leonard Jr., who was not on the trip, added. “It started out just to be a fun day to go on the boat, and tragedy happens.”

A former Westporter who had lived at the Lansdowne condominiums, Speranza and his wife Barbara later moved to St. Maarten where Speranza built and owned the Ocean Club, Leonard Jr. said.

Leonard Sr., 81, founder of the dairy superstore chain that bears his name, had been a close friend of Speranza for more than 40 years, the son said. Over the years Speranza had undertaken many construction projects for the Leonards.

Leonard Jr. added that his mother Marianne Leonard is also a close friend of Barbara Speranza.

According to the St. Maarten Daily Herald website, Leonard Sr., Speranza, Leonard’s son Tom and the boat’s captain Martjin Haasdit had set out at 6 a.m. in Leonard’s 70-foot custom powerboat dubbed Stew’s Special. (See video here of boat.) Leonard commissioned the $4.62 million craft three years ago, according to the Robb Report.

They were en route to St. Thomas in U.S. Virgin Islands, the report said, to deliver propellers.

“As we approached the island a huge rogue wave came out of nowhere and hit the bow of the boat.,” Leonard, Sr. told the Daily Herald.

“It must have been 12 feet high. The wave came crashing through the boat and smashed the glass of the 10-foot-wide windshield, which is normally bulletproof. My son was also swept down to the back of the boat, but he was able to grab onto a railing.”

“Immediately we turned the boat around to look for Bob where we saw white cushions floating in the water,” he added. ” We called in a ‘mayday,’ got him on board, and proceeded to do CPR on him for about 30 minutes, which was the time it took to get the boat to Tortola.

“We all worked on him, trying everything we could to resuscitate him, but to no avail.”

Leonard Jr. said he heard that at the hospital in Tortola his father kept moving back and forth between two rooms.

“He kept going from room to room, one where my brother Tommy was conscious and had a number of stitches and bruises, and the other where, Bob was unconscious,” Leonard Jr. said.

At first the doctors managed to get Speranza’s pulse started and his breathing going again, but shortly afterwards he died, the newspaper said.

Leonard, Jr. said the entire event brought back painful memories for him and his wife Kim of 1989 when their son Stew Leonard III, 2, drowned in a swimming pool while the family was vacationing in St. Maarten.

“This just brought all that back,” said Leonard Jr. who shortly after the drowning launched the Stew Leonard III Water Safety Foundation.

He said that Speranza’s brother, Joe Speranza of Weston, “was the one whose shoulder I leaned on” after his son died.

“When I spoke to him the other day, he said now I have to lean on your shoulder,” Leonard, Jr. said.

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Posted 08/19/11 at 11:41 PM



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