MIAMI BEACH

3 lives intersect in tragedy on a South Beach street

 

mlamagna@MiamiHerald.com

With the night’s revelry over and the day’s buzz about to begin, three lives intersected on a South Beach street.

The sun was not yet up when a self-proclaimed “party princess” heading home, a respected hotel chef on his way to work and a local heading to the gym came together in tragedy.

When it was all over, the chef lay bleeding on the street near his hotel, fatally struck by a passing car. The witness would call 911 and help cops find a suspect. And the young driver, not yet 21, would soon be arrested.

Stefano Riccioletti, 49, a chef at the Shore Club, died on Collins Avenue. And the lives of suspect Karlie Tomica and witness Jairo Fuentes will never be the same.

THE CHEF

Stefano Riccioletti was the executive chef at Terrazza at Shore Club. He was recently separated from Patrizia Pesce and is a father of three; his son, Jacopo, 18, lives in Italy, and his daughter Camilla, 12, and son Filippo, 8, live in the Miami area.

Before coming to Terrazza, Riccioletti worked for years in New York at renowned restaurants including San Domenico on Central Park South, Cipriani at Rockefeller Center and Vento in the Meatpacking District. He was born and raised in Rome.

“He was so passionate, kind, a culinary genius. And one of the kindest, most intense people you ever met,” said Tim Nardi, Riccioletti’s friend and former general manager of the Shore Club.

Nardi, who hired Riccioletti about three years ago, bringing him from New York City to Miami Beach, said the executive chef was “one of those people who really inspired you.”

“He was always the guy shaking hands with anybody who experienced his cuisine, asking if they were having fun,” Nardi said. “Hospitality was part of his heart.”

Riccioletti’s sister-in-law Eliana Pesce described him as “a bundle of energy type of person.”

“He was very positive. He loved his job,” she said. “He would work 12 hours in the restaurant and come home all happy and jolly.”

Pesce said the chef enjoyed running and put the same effort into exercise that he put into his work. At times, he would work an 18-hour day, then run 20 miles right afterward. He ran several marathons in and around New York.

Although he originally envisioned himself staying and working in New York, when he received an offer to come to Miami Beach, he changed his mind.

“He started really liking the idea of being where the weather is warmer, and there’s more outdoor activity and the chance to slow down a little bit,” Pesce said. “He really enjoyed the atmosphere and the people … after work, hanging out with his colleagues by the pool … Last time I saw him, he had no plans to go back to New York any time soon.”

THE SUSPECT

Karlie Tomica was arrested near her apartment about four miles north of the tragedy. She was taken to Miami-Dade Jail and was released at the end of the day on $10,000 bond. Then she ran. She ran away from waiting reporters. And she still seems to be running — away from her life. Her once-prolific posts on Facebook and Twitter about her South Beach style have been wiped clean.

Tomica, 20, graduated in 2010 from a high school in a quieter part of Florida, Treasure Coast High in Port St. Lucie. She enrolled at Florida International University, where she was a student from June 2010 to December 2011.

It appears that her life since then has been South Beach-focused.

In her Twitter bio, she had described herself as a “Party Princess Miami beach. Livin the dream.”

She has tweeted several times recently about drinking alcohol, including one post on “Margaritas & spinach dip to celebrate the end of midterms” on Jan. 17.

One of her plans: to go to the Ultra music fest in downtown Miami.

Now, she has been reduced to a sad-faced young woman in a teary, pouting jail mug shot. She is charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident. Toxicology test results await. Her lawyer and her family couldn’t be reached.

THE WITNESS

When Jairo Fuentes witnessed a hit-and-run on his way to a Miami Beach gym early Monday morning, he followed his “natural instinct.”

He was driving north on Collins Avenue at about 6 a.m. when a man crossing the street was struck by a vehicle and, as Fuentes describes it, sent flying through the air from the impact.

“I was in shock,” when he saw what had happened, Fuentes says. “I was screaming when I saw him fall on the floor, and I guess I was very angry too that [the driver] didn’t stop.”

Fuentes, 47, dialed 911 and followed the driver until he caught up with her north of the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel. The passenger window of the car was broken. She had tried to lose Fuentes several times, pretending to go left at one point and doing U-turns on Collins Avenue. He yelled to her many times that she should stop. Her erratic driving and swerving led him to believe she had been drinking.

When she eventually got out of the car, Fuentes says she was wearing a bright orange dress, and she refused to speak to him. Blood covered the side of the car. Police arrived minutes later.

He couldn’t get the vision of the dead man out of his mind.

“I started thinking, ‘This must have been somebody’s father, somebody’s husband,’” Fuentes said. “When I saw the guy, he looked like someone who was just trying to go to work.”

He was right on all counts.

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