NORTH NAPLES — A 21-year-old Naples man died in a crash Thursday night after his car, traveling nearly 100 mph, struck a tree in the Vineyards golf course community of North Naples.
Robert Sterling Earhart, a student at the Ave Maria School of Law, was killed in the single-vehicle crash, which occurred at 11:15 p.m. on Vineyards Boulevard near Tuscany Way, a street in the Vineyards just north of Physicians Regional Medical Center-Pine Ridge, the Florida Highway Patrol reports.
The victim's grandfather said his grandson, who was called Sterling, was well liked but he had not seen his grandson for many years, in part because he grew up in Raleigh, N.C.
"He was a very bright boy," Brandt Earhart, 84, of Weeki Wachee, said Friday morning. "He had a nice personality."
Fred Minter, president of the Vintage Reserve association where the Earhart family lives, said Sterling Earhart was attending Ave Maria School of Law, which is located in the Vineyards. He has not spoken to the family today.
“He seemed like a hard-working, congenial kid," Minter said. "He had a couple of guys who were his buddies who would come here (to see him). He lived with his parents.”
Eugene R. Milhizer, president and dean of Ave Maria School of Law, issued a statement Friday afternoon regarding the tragic death of Earhart.
"On behalf of the Ave Maria School of Law community, I extend our deepest sympathies to the family of Robert Sterling Earhart on the tragic news of the passing of their son, a first-year student at our law school," Milhizer said. "A mass will be held in Robert’s memory today at 12:30 p.m., in the St. Thomas More Commons building, Ave Maria School of Law, 1025 Commons Circle, Naples. Counseling and support will be available during this very difficult time today after 3:30 p.m. in the St. Thomas More Commons Moot Court Room. Classes have been cancelled for today at the law school. Mr. Earhart and his family will be in our prayers.”
Minter said Sterling Earhart was never disruptive in the Vineyards community, which consists of 112 coach homes, and so learning that he was driving so fast on Vineyards Boulevard was a shock.
“I don’t know his habits well enough to know if he drove fast,” Minter said. “It was fast for Vineyards Boulevard.”
Earhart was driving a 2010 Volkswagen Jetta southbound on Vineyards Boulevard at a speed in excess of 97 mph in a posted 35-mph speed zone when he was unable to negotiate a curve north of the intersection of Tuscany Way, according to FHP reports.
Reports show his car left the roadway while in a counter-clockwise rotation, re-entered the road and crossed the median into the northbound lanes of Vineyards Boulevard. Earnart steered to the right in an attempt to regain control, but entered the median and struck a tree 350 feet south of Tuscany Way. The car rotated counter-clockwise and came to final rest facing north in the southbound lanes.