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Drag-Racing Porsche Case Jumps to Civil Court; Possible Break in Criminal Case

Claire Elford, widow of Craig Elford, one of two British tourists killed in February after a Porsche lost control and struck them on Seabreeze Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, filed suit yesterday against the Porsche's owner, Ryan LeVin, and his friend, Derek Cook, the Tamarac man who LeVin told police was driving the car when it crashed.

Stuart Z. Grossman, a Coral Gables attorney, filed the suit on the Elfords' behalf and has also kept the family apprised of progress in the investigation by the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. This afternoon, Grossman told Juice that he's optimistic that Cook, the suspect who remains at large, will soon be in police custody.

"I expect that Cook will be arrested very soon," says Grossman, who declined to elaborate, citing the sensitivity of the investigation. He is scheduled to meet next week with the Broward State Attorney's Office to discuss the case.

Grossman also hinted at a new area of intrigue in a case that's already had twists and turns: that the playboy heir to a jewelry franchise in Chicago has criminal associations beyond his connection to the February 13 hit and run. "It could be that LeVin is a bit player in a much larger operation," says Grossman. He would not give specifics, saying only that "if I were LeVin, I'd be very worried" and that whatever it is, Cook may also be involved.

"We're just very curious about what they were doing in South Florida besides getting loaded and barreling down Las Olas to find out where was the next good time," says Grossman.

LeVin is currently being held in the Cook County Jail in Chicago for violating the terms of his probation in a case not related to the one in Fort Lauderdale.

Even if LeVin wasn't driving, Grossman says that under Florida law, the owner of the vehicle is primarily liable for what happens when it's in someone else's care and that the driver is secondarily liable.

It's apparent to him that attorneys representing LeVin are preparing a "medical defense," says Grossman, possibly ascribing some of what happened that night to multiple sclerosis, among other alibis that, he says, "would make your skin crawl."

LeVin, he adds, is a "pretty nefarious character" who's "too freaking cute for his own good."

It sure sounds like Grossman's ready to go to trial tomorrow, if need be, and who can blame him? His constant contact with the Elfords has given him a close view of the human impact of the night that LeVin and Cook are alleged to have drag-raced through Fort Lauderdale Beach. "They're devastated," he says of the family. "Craig Elford's youngest daughter was born a month before he was killed. The eldest daughter is only 3. They're waiting for Dad to come home."

The Elfords live in a rural village just north of London. Craig Elford and, the other victim, Kenneth Watkinson, were business partners in a pharmaceutical company and were visiting to recruit workers.

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Thomas Francis

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