By Michael E. Miller
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Police apparently had a routine, if gruesome, accident on their hands. There was no reason to suspect foul play. Although official reports state that officers noted a strong smell of alcohol at the scene, it remains unclear whether or not Dai was drunk.
A few days later, after police received a tip urging them to look into the relationship between Watkins and Dai, investigators focused on the possibility that Dai had committed suicide. Richard Zakrajsek, who knew both men, told the cops Dai was upset about the theft of drug paraphernalia from his apartment and suspected a woman he had dated two weeks before the crash. In a taped statement, Zakrajsek told a Margate detective: "All this stuff, and stuff being stolen, maybe having your heart broken, and it just seemed to me like he finally went off the deep end."
When police inventoried the Taurus after the crash, they found a loaded .22-caliber handgun on the floor near the driver's seat, a gym bag containing 380 grams of marijuana and a scale in the trunk, and a small stash of cocaine in the ashtray. They conducted additional interviews, revisited the crash scene, and finally ruled the cause "undetermined."
Peter Crompton recalls his first visit with Lee after the crash: "When I got to the hospital I just collapsed. His brain was sticking out, it was unbelievable.... [Doctors] didn't even give him a chance. They even signed him up as an organ donor and wanted us to pull the plug. I said "No way. I'm getting him and taking him home.'"
It was almost a year before Lee was able to leave the hospital. At home he learned to communicate with eye signals, using one blink for yes and two short blinks for no. He rubbed his stomach when he was hungry and raised his hand when he had to go to the bathroom. He even surprised his doctors. "It is my opinion that he is medically stable and has thrived because he has 24-hour care from his family," wrote Dr. Craig Lichtblau in 1996. "This patient has already demonstrated survival against all odds and has shown marked improvements from the time I initially evaluated him."
That progress came at a cost, however.
The Cromptons didn't own a wheelchair-accessible van, so they had to transport Lee via ambulance. That cost $275 a pop. Lee was immobile, so there were lift slings and splints to pay for. He needed cognitive and physical therapy. An internist, a urologist, and a neurologist were treating him. He was on nine different medications. The house had to be remodeled to accommodate his special needs.
There were also emotional and financial tolls. Peter quit his job to care for Lee and had to take out loans. "I borrowed $100,000 last year, and I'm still living day to day," he says. "I've sacrificed five years of my life."
Economic salvation arrived in the form of a successful lawsuit against Enterprise Leasing, the company that rented the Taurus to Dai, and Ocean Bay Construction, the owner of the flatbed truck. Peter Crompton claimed that Enterprise, as the owner of the automobile, was ultimately responsible for the driver's performance. Enterprise contended that Dai, over whom they had no control, had caused Lee's injuries. Crompton's suit against Ocean Bay argued the truck shouldn't have been parked where it was. Ocean Bay countered that the company had followed state regulations when marking the construction site.
By early 1998, Enterprise and Ocean Bay had both settled, before the case went to trial. Enterprise paid $4 million in damages; Ocean Bay shelled out $900,000. Arthur Franzia, the presiding judge, complimented Crompton's lawyers, Greg Gaebe and Paul Lashbrook, on their work. "I think you did an excellent job," he said, according to court transcripts, "because I don't know really if you would have gotten that much in a verdict because the jury could easily have found the driver 80 or 90 percent responsible for the accident."
After court fees and lawyers' cuts, Lee Crompton was left with $3.16 million, which was supposed to maintain him for the rest of his life. Peter Crompton and Linda Bourdet, as co-guardians, deposited the award in an account at First Union. Judge Mark Speiser issued a standing order that no money could be removed without approval of the court. Peter requested and received a $5600 monthly stipend to care for his son.
Once the case was settled, Crompton's lawyers referred him to Gunnar Huber, an attorney with Hunter & Hunter, a Hollywood law firm. Huber specialized in guardianships.
Soon Lee Crompton's money started disappearing.
Huber, now age 31, was the guardianship's lawyer from December 1997 to October 1999, when Judge Speiser removed him by an emergency court order. Under Huber's watch the balance in Lee Crompton's bank account dwindled. Facing an investigation by the Florida Bar, Huber filed a petition for permanent disciplinary resignation without the possibility of readmission -- in other words he voluntarily turned in his license to practice law in Florida. Then he vanished. Hunter & Hunter did not respond to New Times' inquiries regarding Huber. The $231,000 Pembroke Pines house he shared with his wife stands empty, weeds shooting up through paving stones in the courtyard. Contacted through his legal counsel, Mark Braverman, Huber declined to comment for this story.