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Prominent restaurant entrepreneur witnesses deadly crash

Richard Gonzmart saw the crash while driving along Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa on Jan. 9.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. January 17, 2020
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File.  Richard Gonzmart
File. Richard Gonzmart
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Tampa restaurant entrepreneur Richard Gonzmart has a career waiting for him in the news business if this whole Columbia thing doesn’t work out.

Gonzmart, whose Columbia Restaurant Group has eight locations and some 1,400 employees, was driving on along Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa on Jan. 9. That’s when he witnessed a horrific car crash that left one person dead and one in jail facing DUI and vehicular homicide charges. With the eye for detail Gonzmart uses for customer service in his restaurants, which, in addition to Columbia include Ulele and Goody Goody, among others, he described the crash in a Jan. 10 Facebook post.

It started, he writes, when a “pickup truck driving at excessive speed…almost cut me off as he sped between my car and the vehicle next to me.”

The driver was doing 60-70 mph, Gonzmart estimates, and “as he sped away, I knew to stay away from him. At that moment, I felt that he was going to kill someone. All of a sudden, he lost control and rolled his truck. He was ejected.”

“I came to an immediate stop. I ran over to see what I could do. He was lying on the grass unconscious,” writes Gonzmart, a Business Observer 2019 Top Entrepreneur. “A person with some sort of medical training told me he was breathing.”

“About four to five minutes later, a young lady screamed that there was a man in the water. Two young men jumped in to hold his head above water. It was no use. The injuries of being struck by the truck and ingesting seawater in his lungs would take his life.”

George Gage, 70, is the pedestrian killed in the accident. Benjamin Douglas Ehas, 31, has been charged with DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide, according to Tampa police. Authorities allege Ehas had a blood-alcohol content level of 0.234 at the time of the crash — three times the legal limit.

“As I witnessed the lifeless body, I saw [Gage’s] running shoes on the sidewalk maybe 10 to 15 feet away. ... The truck's impact knocked him right out of his shoes.”

Gonzmart, in writing the post, delivered something else besides an eyewitness account: perspective.

“There is something about witnessing a fatal accident, a trauma to the mind and soul,” he writes. “You realize that things can change in an instant. It makes you look at life differently, with a far better understanding of how fragile life is.

“In one second all you know and love could be gone. I will no longer complain about my aches and pains, about traffic jams or lack of sleep. And I will be sure to tell those close to me that I love them every day and say it often.”


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