FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Well-known in Fort Lauderdale's tightknit yachting community, Tom Wilson had a reputation as a skilled and careful seaman. He had crossed the world's oceans many times at the helm of luxury boats, and he loved the life he led, according to friends.
But early Saturday, Wilson, 41, made a deadly mistake when he headed south down the northbound lanes of Interstate 75 in Weston, witnesses told the Florida Highway Patrol.
Alone in a 1998 Jeep Cherokee, Wilson collided head-on with a semitrailer truck north of Royal Palm Boulevard at 2:50 a.m., police said. It was unclear how long Wilson had been driving the wrong way on the interstate, FHP said.
Wilson died at the scene.
The truck's driver, Ricardo Navarro, 42, of Hialeah, was not injured.
The crash left the northbound lanes of I-75 closed for five hours.
"As a captain, he was one of the best," said Vicki Glenister, who got the news of her friend's death Saturday in Newport, R.I., where she is crewing aboard a yacht. "He always thought of his crew and made sure everyone was safe."
Glenister described Wilson as a "great guy, with a great sense of humor."
Another friend, John Foerstel, said that Wilson, along with Glenister and her husband, Tony, had recently shared his Fort Lauderdale home when they were between seagoing trips.
"I am totally shocked," said Foerstel, a chef and house manager for a private estate. "I would never think that he would be going the wrong way like that."
A native of Portsmouth, R.I., Thomas V. Wilson moved to Fort Lauderdale 18 years ago, according to his sister, Maryanne Wilson, of Bristol, R.I. He was a 1991 graduate of St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H.
He had recently separated from his wife, Megan Kelly, who is now in her native Perth, Australia, according to Maryanne Wilson.
In 1996, Wilson was included in a feature story published in The Capital, of Annapolis, Md., about the arrival there of the 114-foot luxury yacht Abbracci from Fort Lauderdale. Wilson, the yacht's first mate, was quoted as saying, "I used to be a ski bum, but I decided this was a better way to go. I decided to stay out of the cold."
Officers said the accident remains under investigation.
Staff researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.
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