Suspect in NY winemaker death detained

January 4, 2009 3:27:50 PM PST
A man suspected of piloting a motorboat that struck and killed a New York winery owner as he swam off Brazil's coast was briefly detained on Sunday, police said. Seventy-year-old Christian Wolffer, owner of the Wolffer Estate winery, bled to death after suffering two deep cuts on his back while swimming on New Year's Eve near the colonial town of Paraty, about 150 kilometers (100 miles) west of Rio de Janeiro, police inspector Marcos Cerqueira said.

He said the cuts were caused by the propeller of a passing motorboat, and police have detained the man believed to be piloting the boat for questioning.

"Wolffer's death was accidental and whoever caused it will be charged with manslaughter," he said.

Cerqueira said the detained man, who was released after several hours of questioning, claimed that on New Year's Eve he was nowhere near the site of the accident.

"But despite his denial, he is still a suspect," Cerqueira said, declining to provide further details or give the identity of the suspect.

Police have said that Wolffer was at a lunch party at a Brazilian friend's beach home when he decided to go for a swim.

Minutes later he was heard shouting for help and seen waving his arms frantically. One guest rushed out in his boat and, with the help of two other swimmers, pulled him out of the water.

Wolffer died before reaching the hospital, police have said.

A former investment banker and venture capitalist, the native of Hamburg, Germany, owned the Wolffer Estate vineyard and winery - formerly known as Sagpond Vineyards - near Sagaponack, New York, in the Hamptons area of Long Island.

Before going into the wine business, Wolffer had founded Euro Investors Property, Inc., also based in Sagaponack, and had worked for the German chemical company BASF in Mexico.

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