DOCUMENT: Celebrity

Post-er Girl Auto Know Better

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Post-er Girl Auto Know Better

As newspaper promotions go, the New York Post hasn't exactly distinguished itself with its headlong rush to capitalize on the Lizzie Grubman auto accident. We're talking, of course, about the tabloid's crass and controversial Lizzie mobile contest, which will award a $65,000 Mercedes-Benz SUV-"just like the one Lizzie Grubman drives"--to one lucky reader.

What started as an idea in the paper's marketing department was transformed by new editor Col Allan into a front page staple, a circulation gimmick roundly criticized by representatives of those injured by Grubman, the 31-year-old PR executive who mowed down a crowd of people in the parking lot of Conscience Point, a Southampton nightclub. Attorney Gary Gash has called the Post contest "a little sick"and " an insult to the people that have been injured. "Mike Paul, spokesman for an injured Conscience Pointbouncer, called the promotion "absolutely and positively in bad taste, and it's inappropriate." Donna Bowland, a spokesperson for Mercedes-Benz, which is not involved in the contest, said, "I don't know whether to be more astonished or appalled at this."

Along with the front page plugs, Allan has also used the Post's news hole to boost the Lizzie mobile stunt, turning to reporter Farrah Weinstein for copy. On July18, Weinstein did a piece about her test drive of the "Grub-mobile." Noting that she's had her share of"near-death driving experiences and been sued twice,"Weinstein wrote that she was the obvious choice to test the car. The page-three story closed with her flip testament to the SUV's power: "I try a 180-degree turn. The wheel is so tight I grip it with all my strength. I chip a nail."

On Monday, July 31, Weinstein did a two-page story recapping her weekend tooling around the Hamptons in the Lizzie mobile (she's pictured on the Post's cover behind the wheel of the SUV, which was adorned with placards announcing the contest). Weinstein drove to the Bridgehampton Polo Club and several Hamptons nightspots (including the Conscience Point "scene of the crime"), where she mugged for photos--four of which ran with her travelogue. The main image shows Weinstein, 24, sitting atop the Benz with her arms outstretched. She's wearing shades, a belly-baring camisole, and appears to be cheering action at the polo club.

But considering her own checkered driving history, Weinstein might have been more circumspect when it came to trading on the Grubman accident.

In June 1996, Weinstein was involved in a Manhattan auto crash that left one of her passengers seriously injured and which resulted in a $1.75 million legal settlement being paid to the 19-year-old victim, who suffered a traumatic brain injury. According to police and court records and interviews with the victim and her family, here's an account of the 1996 accident and its aftermath:

Weinstein, who was driving a 1988 Isuzu truck owned by her father's company, and two friends were returning home to Long Island after attending a show at Tramps. Heading for the Midtown Tunnel, Weinstein was driving east on 36th Street when she collided with a taxi at bout 3:45 AM. The Isuzu careened across Second Avenue, rolling over twice before settling on its roof. Weinstein and a 20-year-old woman in the passenger seat were both wearing seat belts and escaped unharmed. But the third woman, in the backseat without a belt, was critically injured.

The victim, whose family asked that TSG not use her name, had been pinned to the ground by the rear seat, but somehow was able to crawl from the wreckage. She walked a step or two before falling down and losing consciousness. She was taken to Bellevue, where she was placed on a respirator, and then transferred to NYU Medical Center. Hospitalized for about two weeks, the woman's injuries included a skull fracture, various spinal and facial fractures, a fractured thorax, a collapsed lung, and a broken pelvis. "There was pain all the time," the woman, now 24, recalled."I used to say to my mom, 'Please, cut my leg off.'"

Two months after the accident, the victim filed a $25million lawsuit against Weinstein, the cab owner, and Weinstein's father's company. The woman's complain accused the defendants of "carelessly, recklessly and negligently" operating their motor vehicles. The victim's lawyer, Harvey Ginsberg, recalled recently that Weinstein "was totally negligent," while the victim claimed that Weinstein sped up as a yellow light was turning red.

Responding to the lawsuit, Weinstein denied responsibility for the accident, claiming that injuries to the victim, who was then a sophomore at Tulane University, were "caused wholly or in part" by her failure to wear a seat belt. But two years after the lawsuit was filed--and after depositions were taken--the case was settled out of court for $1.75 million, with the payment being made by Weinstein's father's insurance company. The victim also got a $20,000 taxi insurance payment.

The money, of course, has done nothing to change the young woman's belief that the accident was "the worst thing that could ever happen to someone." The crash, she said, "probably cost me the best years of my life. Everyone else has great college stories to tell their kids. I lost all my friends. It led to my total psychological breakdown. " Since the accident, the woman said, she has had trouble holding jobs and often showed up late to work. "I'd leave the house and realize I'd forgotten my glasses or my keys or a sweatshirt. It was because of the accident." The victim added that she has been permanently scarred by a snap decision to "go through a red light."

When TSG spoke briefly with Weinstein Sunday afternoon(8/5), she declined to comment on the accident, except to say it was "in the past" and had "already been resolved." Asked if she mentioned details of the crash to Post editors, she said, "That's something you'll have to ask them." At that point, Weinstein tried to end the conversation by noting, "I have to go to a Broadway show." Before she hung up, TSG asked whether her automotive history should have precluded her from serving as poster girl for the Lizzie mobile stunt. "I'm just doing my job," she answered.

Computerized records show that Weinstein also was involved in an auto accident involving personal injury back in March 1994 in Nassau County. But details of that crash have been expunged from Department of Motor Vehicle records, according to a DMV spokesman.