If chef Jonathan Eismanns life were a roller coaster, it just took a stomach-plunging dip and sits teetering on the edge of the tracks.
Once the golden boy of Lincoln Road and a pioneer in Miamis food culture, Eismann saw his professional career take a dive from that peak in late 2010 as his ambitious plan to become the restaurant king of Miamis Design District ended in financial disaster. He was forced to close all four restaurants, leaving the chef in debt to suppliers and facing foreclosure proceedings on his multi-million-dollar Miami Beach home.
But in recent months Eismann had started the climb back up. He had reinvented himself as a real estate broker, saved his house from foreclosure, paid off his debts and was talking of opening a new restaurant. Then came the tragic morning less than two weeks ago in West Miami-Dade when the once prominent Miami chef was involved in a baffling traffic accident.
Now, Eismann faces the possibility of criminal charges for killing pedestrian Jean Carlos Ruiz, a young father who was on his way to work at an import-export company.
It all started with Eismann getting into what should have been a simple car accident just before 9 a.m. on Oct. 10, rear ending a car on Northwest 72nd Avenue. But then, police reports say, he fled the scene of the wreck, only to lose control of his Ford Explorer moments later, swerve off the road and hit Ruiz, who was on the shoulder waiting to catch a bus.
The force of the crash flipped Ruiz into the air and knocked over a power pole. The 29-year-old was pronounced dead at the scene.
Those who know Eismann, 51, are struggling to find answers. They dont understand why the devoted father of two school-age daughters and James Beard Foundation nominee for Best Chef in the South, would flee the scene of an accident.
It doesnt fit
Its a very sad and unfortunate situation, said Ken Lyon, a caterer and chef who has known Eismann for more than two decades, since they both were pioneers on Lincoln Road. I only know him as an earnest guy who had a little bit of bad luck, not the kind of guy who would have problems like this. It doesnt fit together.
Nearly two weeks after the accident, Eismann has not been arrested or given a traffic ticket. A Miami-Dade police spokesman said the investigation is ongoing.
Eismann declined through his attorney, Bob Amsel, to comment for this story. But Amsel said that his client waived the right to counsel and immediately after the accident gave a full taped statement to Miami-Dade police while receiving treatment at the hospital for back and wrist injuries.
He continues to cooperate with authorities, Amsel said.
But thats not enough for Ruizs widow Celia Guezara. Her husband died a week before their fourth wedding anniversary, which she spent holding a vigil at the site of the accident. The couple had just celebrated their daughter Kaylees first birthday last month.
I want justice served, Guezara said. Its not fair for the person who killed my husband and destroyed my life to be out there freely.
Whatever happens, theres no denying that two families will never be the same after the events of Oct. 10.
For Eismann, nothing in the early stages of his career would have suggested such an occurrence.