BROWARD COUNTY

Death of college dean in tow truck accident shocks community

 

Days after the death of a Keiser University dean in a freak accident, a community struggles to figure out what went wrong.

mrvasquez@MiamiHerald.com

A Broward suburban neighborhood with a history of tension between residents and the homeowner association-hired tow truck company is now in a state of shocked mourning after one homeowner died while trying to prevent his white Mercedes from being hauled away.

Until last week, 38-year-old Elias Konwufine was the quintessential American success story — an African-born professor and associate dean at Fort Lauderdale’s Keiser University with a wife and three children. On annual trips back to his native country of Cameroon, Konwufine would make it a point to contribute to the schooling costs of relatives and also orphans living in his home city of Bamenda, his family says.

“The most educated, the most loving person,” Peter Konwufine, 56, said of his younger brother. “He was an inspiration for everybody.”

Then, at around 6:30 p.m. last Wednesday, Konwufine’s life was abruptly and tragically cut short.

It began when Konwufine discovered a driver with Capitol Towing was in front of his house in Lauderhill’s Sienna Greens development, and was attempting to remove one of the family’s cars. Driveways in the neighborhood can only accommodate two cars, and one of Konwufine’s spaces was occupied by a therapist visiting one of the Konwufine children, who is autistic.

Because of that visiting third car, Konwufine’s vehicle jutted out into the sidewalk/swale area, which was a towable offense.

What happened next is a matter of some dispute.

The tow truck driver — who so far has only been identified by his first name, Ken — told one local TV station that Konwufine and his wife and son were so angry about the tow that they were hitting him in the back and in the head. After Konwufine had jumped off the tow truck’s running boards, he was inadvertently run over by his own vehicle as the tow truck pulled it away, the driver has said.

Attorney Dean Freeman, who is representing Konwufine’s family, said there are multiple witnesses who contradict the driver’s version of events. Freeman said Konwufine was simply verbally pleading with the tow driver to leave his car alone. The tow driver refused and then sped off, Freeman said, and in that hasty getaway Konwufine found himself suddenly trapped as his own car was pulled over him.

Lauderhill police have not charged anyone in Konwufine’s death, but say the investigation is ongoing.

There’s always been a parking crunch at Sienna Greens — street parking is basically non-existent, and the only guest parking is located blocks away.

Capitol Towing was originally hired by the homeowners’ association to tow vehicles that violated Sienna Greens’ rules.

But many in the community say the company was too aggressive in its task.

Shaun Taylor, a former homeowners’ association president, said the company had been known to arm its drivers with a Taser, and had been caught improperly fleeing the neighborhood through an exit reserved for emergencies. By doing so, the tow driver would avoid angry residents who were trying to catch up to the tow truck at the community’s main exit.

Capitol Towing was fired by the neighborhood association in 2011, Taylor said, but has since been rehired.

Konwufine’s neighbors say the tow company could regularly be seen scouting the neighborhood streets, even during daylight hours when residents are not supposed to be at risk of tows. After accounting for each home’s two driveway parking spots, it’s easy to find cars in violation — thanks to the narrow swale area, cars parked there routinely spill over onto the prohibited sidewalk or grass.

Florida corporate records list Capitol Towing as a no-longer-active company, having been dissolved nearly a year ago. State records identify William Gante of Davie as the company manager, but Gante denied he had anything to do with the business.

Reached by phone Monday, Gante said another individual, local towing company operator Marshall Saskin, had used his name to form Capitol Towing without his knowledge. Gante said Saskin’s prior towing company couldn’t qualify for AAA tow jobs because of its bad reputation, which led him to try to create a new company under a false name.

“I had to get a lawyer,” said Gante, an auto-body shop operator who said he knew Saskin because their two businesses sometimes crossed paths. “After that, I just never really trusted him.”

A woman who answered the phone at a number listed to Saskin said “We have no comment...stop calling please,” and then hung up.

Konwufine had lived in the United States for more than a decade, and was affectionately known as “Dr. K” at Keiser, where he taught and was also an administrator in the business school. Konwufine held two doctorate degrees from Nova Southeastern University — one in accounting, one in business administration.

His student reviews on RateMyProfessor.com, a popular professor-grading website, were both flattering and greatly appreciative.

“Because of this wonderful professor...I am not stopping my education until I earn a doctorate degree,” one student wrote last year. “Dr. K is actually a role model for all students.”

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