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Enzo's joy shredded at 260km/h

2006-05-14 21:00

The Ferrari Enzo

First came a simple question: how could anyone plow their car into an electricity pole at that speed and survive with no more than just a cut lip, as Swedish businessman and ex-con Bo Stefan Eriksson did?

From there, the case has developed more turns than the winding route authorities say Eriksson couldn't navigate early the morning of February 21.

There's international intrigue, an odd homeland security twist and even Swedish mobsters.

First, there was the mysterious German guy named Dietrich. Eriksson told authorities he was Dietrich's passenger - that he let Dietrich take the $1.5m (about R9.4m) Ferrari Enzo out for a pre-dawn spin past the seaside mansions of Malibu, even though he didn't know Dietrich's last name or where to find him after he wrecked the car.

Seized guns and badges

Then there were the two "homeland security" guys who showed up soon after the crash, demanding to talk to Eriksson as local police were still interviewing him. It turned out they provided homeland security for a small bus company in suburban Arcadia, 96km away.

That was far from the end.

On Tuesday, authorities raided the San Gabriel Valley transit authority's headquarters, took one man into custody and seized guns, badges and police jackets. They still haven't figured out exactly why the company, with a fleet of five buses, had a homeland security detail.

What authorities have uncovered, however, are Eriksson's connections to a bankrupt European video-game company he once helped run, his convictions for assault and other crimes in Sweden and his possession of a .357-calibre handgun registered to a reserve sheriff's deputy from nearby Orange County.

Sold only to special customers

It all began with the wreck of a car so exclusive it was named after company founder Enzo Ferrari.

Only 400 were made, between 2002 and 2004, and then sold only to the Italian carmaker's most-prized customers.

Thomas Hamann, an exotic-car collector and former Ferrari dealer, said: "You could not go to a dealership and say I want to buy an Enzo. It's a very special car."

Eriksson, 44, somehow wound up with two Enzos, as well as a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. Police have confiscated the surviving cars and accuse him of stealing all three, which they say were worth $3.8m (about R24m).

In jail on a federal immigration hold, Eriksson faces court on Monday on charges of embezzlement, grand theft, drunken driving and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Prosecutors filed the weapons charge after authorities found the handgun at Eriksson's Bel-Air home in April.

Still owed $500 000 on the cars

His lawyer didn't return a call for comment this week, but he said at a pre-trial hearing earlier in the month that Eriksson wasn't trying to steal the cars when he shipped them from Britain under other people's names.

He said Eriksson, who still owed more than $500 000 (about R3.15m) on the cars, only stopped paying the banks after his company, Gizmondo Europe Ltd, went broke last year.

Eriksson also told authorities he was a deputy commissioner with the San Gabriel Valley transit agency's anti-terrorism division, although most of his previous experience with law enforcement appears to be the five years he spent in a Swedish prison in the 1990s for assault, extortion and other crimes.

Swedish authorities told Associated Press last month that Eriksson led a gang of hoodlums who collected debts and carried out enforcement duties for local mobsters.

"By American standards, they were no mafia," said Lars Nylen, a former chief of police in Uppsala, Sweden.

"They were a group of guys who liked cars and boats, and who got the money for it through debt collections."

'Most-incredible exotic-car crash in history'

Ultimately, it was his penchant for fast cars - and his apparent inability to drive them well - that landed Eriksson in jail in America. If he'd crashed a Volkswagen Beetle, he might have remained under the radar.

"I would rank it as probably the most-incredible exotic-car crash in history," said Greg Carlson, whose Web site, wreckedexotics.com, keeps track of such things.

As the case has expanded, Carlson has dedicated an entire section of his Web site to the crash, filling it with before-and-after photos of the Enzo, as well as pictures commemorating the event. One is of a cake made to look like a smashed car.

The irony of it all, noted former Ferrari dealer Hamann, is that Eriksson wasn't even going that fast by Enzo standards.

The Enzo tops out at more than 322km/h.


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