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Hit-and-run death remains unsolved

STORY BY RAY MCNULTY (Week of January 15, 2015)
Photo of Peter Meyer

Peter Meyer should be teeing off this week at the Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club, just as he had for the past 15 years, since first making the seaside community his winter home. “He loved to play golf,” his daughter, Deb Cohen, said wistfully. “He was a member at Quail Valley, too, and he’d play four or five times a week when he was in Florida.”

Often, Meyer would play with his longtime friend and island neighbor, Pat Walsh, who first met Meyer in 1976 – they went through Merrill Lynch’s management training program together – and reconnected with him after a chance meeting at the Orchid club in 2000.

“Strictly serendipitous,” Walsh said. “I was taking a golf lesson when Peter walked up and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ I had no idea he was here, and he had no idea I was here.

“He eventually bought two lots here, and I bought the second lot from him and we became next-door neighbors,” he added. “So we’ve played a lot of golf together over the years.”

He paused for a moment, then continued: “When I first heard the news, my knees buckled. I couldn’t believe it. He was such a great guy. He was probably my best friend down here. I’m going to miss him tremendously.”

It was two Sundays ago that Meyer, 72, was killed in a yet-unsolved, hit-and-run accident in Savannah, GA, where he had stopped for the night on his drive from Quechee, VT, to Orchid.

Cohen said her father was traveling with his beloved Yorkshire Terrier, Chili – “My dad liked to drive and the dog doesn’t like to fly,” she explained – and had checked in at the midtown Residence Inn. It was already dark when he walked across Abercorn Street to have dinner at the Bonefish Grill, and he was struck by a pickup truck or SUV as he waited to cross back to his hotel.

Savannah police hadn’t yet pinpointed the time of the fatality, which occurred in a 35-mph speed zone near the Twelve Oaks Shopping Center. The impact knocked Meyer’s body behind some bushes, and he wasn’t found until 10:30 p.m.

“The police have indicated that he was killed instantly,” his daughter said.

Based on evidence found at the scene, police investigators said they were seeking a 1999 or 2000 Chevrolet Silverado, Tahoe or Suburban with damage to the front-right corner of the vehicle. Shortly after learning of the tragedy, Meyer’s family offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the hit-and-run driver.

Meyer’s friends and neighbors at Orchid Island, meanwhile, were taking up a collection last weekend with hopes of increasing the reward to $100,000.

“Peter had a lot of friends here,” Walsh said, “and we want to do what we can to help.”

Cohen said her mother, Phyllis, usually accompanied Meyer on the annual drive to Florida. They would leave the week after New Year’s Day and stay through Mother’s Day before returning to their home in Vermont.

This year, however, Meyer’s wife stayed behind to undergo dental work in Boston and was planning to fly down afterwards. Meyer and his wife were high school sweethearts who celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in June.

“My poor mother,” Cohen said. “She keeps saying, ‘If I hadn’t broken this tooth, I’d have been with him.’ It’s been very difficult for her.”

Not just for her.

“We’ve been hearing from people who hadn’t seen my dad in years – high school friends, classmates from West Point, soldiers he served with in Vietnam, guys he worked with,” Cohen said. “Grown men are calling us and sobbing. Nobody can believe this happened. Not to him.

“My dad took care of people,” she added. “Whether they needed money or advice or a place to stay, he was there for them. And he was always there for us. He was a larger-than-life guy – charismatic, generous, successful. That’s why this is so tragic, so unfair. For him to be killed this way, it’s just not right.”

Meyer, a New Jersey native who starred in football and basketball at Columbia High School in Maplewood, graduated from West Point in 1964, reached the rank of U.S. Army captain and served in Vietnam in 1967-68 as an Airborne Ranger.

He left the Army in 1969 and launched what became a 31-year career at Merrill Lynch, where he rose from stock broker to assistant manager in Newark, NJ, to manager in Chicago and managing director of institutional sales in Boston. He retired in December 2000.

Both Cohen and Walsh said there was no chance Meyer was at fault in the accident.

“We’re not talking about some feeble old weakling with a walker,” Walsh said. “This guy was very healthy, very active and athletic, and in very good shape. He wouldn’t have walked into traffic. Whoever hit him had to veer into him, and they had to be driving fast.”

Said Cohen: “My dad slept in swamps and jumped out of airplanes in Vietnam. He was a successful executive for a lot of years. He wasn’t a careless man.”

He was, by all accounts, an officer and a gentleman – and so much more.

Longtime family friend Jill Zuckman, who served as the Meyers’ spokesperson in the immediate wake of the accident, described Meyer as a “faithful and loving husband, a steadfast friend and a generous father and grandfather.

“He was a war veteran who served his country bravely and proudly,” she continued. “He was also the life of the party, infusing every gathering with energy, humor and fun. He touched many lives and has left this world a better place.”

Meyer left behind two daughters, Cohen (Oakton, VA) and Sue Ross (Brookline, MA), two sons-in-law (Andy Cohen and Chuck Ross), and five grandchildren: Josh and Lily Cohen; and Ben, Henry and Lizzie Ross.

He was buried Tuesday at the West Point Cemetery.
“The way he took care of himself, Peter should’ve been with us into his 90s,” Walsh said. “It’s heartbreaking. Just heartbreaking.”