Miami pioneering restaurateur Jonathan Eismann won’t do jail time for fatal car crash

Chef Jonathan Eismann. Photo: Peter Andrew Bosch.
Chef Jonathan Eismann. Photo: Peter Andrew Bosch.

Jonathan Eismann, the restaurateur who helped transform Miami’s food scene in the 1990s, won’t be serving jail time for killing a pedestrian in a car crash six years ago.

Eismann, 58, who ran restaurants such as Pacific Time, Fin and Q, pleaded guilty Tuesday to leaving the scene of an accident involving a fatality, and a civil infraction of careless driving.

In exchange, he agreed to serve one year of probation and must complete 100 hours of community service and stop driving any cars. He’ll also have to donate $1,000 to a victim’s compensation fund, and speak on a panel organized by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Eismann was originally charged with vehicular manslaughter for the death of Juan Carlos Ruiz, 29, on Oct. 10, 2012. in West Miami-Dade. Police said Eismann was driving away from the scene of an earlier crash and lost control of his Ford Explorer, ran up onto the sidewalk and hit Ruiz, who was waiting for a bus.

At Tuesday’s court hearing, Eismann said the crash was an “innocent accident.”

The plea deal was extended over the objections of Ruiz’s family, who did not believe the sentence was tough enough.

“It was very hard for us to take this,” his tearful widow, Celia Guevara, told reporters after the court hearing, adding: “I don’t want to forgive him. I don’t forgive what he did. I don’t forgive the justice system. I feel betrayed.”

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office said that recent appellate court decisions have gutted its ability to prove Eismann drove recklessly — as opposed to “carelessly” — the day of the crash.

“With this plea, Jonathan Eismann would have a conviction for a felony traffic offense and forever have a felony conviction on his record,” the State Attorney’s Office said in a statement. “Also, always on his record would be the careless driving with death conviction.”

Once the golden boy of Lincoln Road and a pioneer in Miami’s 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 Miami’s 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 multimillion-dollar Miami Beach home.