Car Plows Into Supermodel’s House

Water Mill family of three escapes unharmed as major fire breaks out
A burned-out shell was all that remained of the Mercedes that crashed through a fence before slamming into a house on Hayground Road in Water Mill early Sunday morning. The house was badly damaged by fire. Michael Heller

“It sounded like a bomb exploded,” Igor Vishnyakov said Sunday as he surveyed the wreckage of the house on Hayground Road in Water Mill he shares with his wife, Sasha Pivovarova, and their 4-year-old daughter. “The house shook. We were sleeping. It was 1:15 in the morning.”

The bomb was a 2006 Mercedes-Benz driven by Alec Wasser, 21, whose parents own a Fifth Avenue residence in Manhattan and a house on Swan’s Neck Lane, a cul-de-sac a little more than 100 yards away from the crash.

Mr. Wasser was driving at a high rate of speed north on Mecox Road, Southampton Town police said, when he failed to negotiate the fork at the intersection with Hayground Road. The car went off the road and crashed into the house, on a property at the southern tip of the fork.

Firefighters from several departments battled the blaze for about three hours in the bitter cold and high winds.

“It was an absolute miracle that no one suffered a serious injury,” said Sgt. Steve Miller, who was at the scene. “That includes the driver, his passenger, those in the house, and the firefighters.”

“There are no skid marks,” Mr. Vishnyakov pointed out later Sunday morning as he walked through broken glass and burned shingles of his house with two reporters. Also on hand and surveying the damage was Edward Burke Jr., an attorney for Mr. Wasser.

The car plowed through two fir trees, a fence and its concrete base, and a small house-like structure over a large Buddha sculpture before slamming into the main house. If not for the concrete, Mr. Vishnyakov said, he believes that he, or his wife, or his daughter, or all three would have been killed. The Buddha was knocked over but still intact. “Buddha saved our life,” Mr. Vishnyakov said, only half in jest.

“It was so surreal,” he said of the moment he opened his eyes. “Normally, I see the bushes, the sculpture, the little house.” Instead it was a blazing car about four yards from where he lay.

Mr. Vishnyakov pointed at the master bedroom. The car crashed through a wall, becoming embedded between the couple’s bed and their daughter’s playroom. He said Mr. Wasser stumbled out of the burning car, mumbling. At first he thought Mr. Wasser was talking to him, but then he realized that he was speaking to a young woman in the passenger seat.

Mr. Vishnyakov could see that the woman had an injured arm. They could not open the passenger-side door because it was too close to a wall, so Mr. Wasser got the woman out through the driver’s side. “They were drunk. The girl was drunk,” Mr. Vishnyakov said.

Mr. Vishnyakov grabbed a fire extinguisher and attempted to put out flames coming from the car’s engine, “until my wife convinced me to stay as far as possible from the car.” The fire spread quickly to the house as it was whipped up in the ice-cold winds.

The couple are both artists. Mr. Vishnyakov currently has a show of his work at the Tripoli Gallery in Southampton. His wife is also a fashion model.

“We lost a lot of artwork,” Mr. Vishnyakov said, mentioning in particular a portrait of his wife and daughter that he had commissioned. “It was my favorite work.” Also destroyed were two closets filled with Prada clothing.

“Our daughter is traumatized,” Ms. Pivovarova said. The girl, who attends prekindergarten in the area, was at a friend’s house while her parents toured the wreckage.

There was at least one moment of relief. Alfred Callahan III, the second assistant chief of the Southampton Fire Department, found the family’s big black tomcat, Oolong, about an hour into the call. “The homeowner said the cat likes to hide around the kitchen, so when the smoke lightened up a little bit we did a search. I found the cat behind a toilet in a bathroom next to the kitchen.”

“It’s all the family was asking about,” Mr. Callahan said. “I’m just glad we were able to find it in time.” Chief Jeff White of the Bridgehampton Fire Department was in charge at the scene.

Most of the house was built in 1968, the couple said. The exception, a section dating back to Colonial times, was impacted the least. “But the doors don’t close anymore,” Mr. Vishnyakov said. The plumbing was wrecked, and there are now large holes in the floor. The stench of fire was everywhere on Sunday.

Mr. Burke told Mr. Vishnyakov that Mr. Wasser’s father, Gregg Wasser, a real estate developer, had sent him. “He wants me to relay to you that he looks forward to talking with you.” The intent, he said, is to repair the damage and replace what was lost.

Before traveling to the site of the fire, Mr. Burke had stood next to his client as he was arraigned in Southampton Town Justice Court. Mr. Wasser told Justice Deborah Kooperstein that he was a student at Marymount Manhattan College after having previously attended Bucknell University.

Justice Kooperstein told him she was suspending his license for one year because he had refused to take a breath test at police headquarters. “I have the ability to deem you a dangerous driver,” she warned him, which would leave him without recourse as far as his driving privileges are concerned. Bail was set at $3,000, which Mr. Wasser’s father posted.

Outside the courthouse, Mr. Burke said he had been speaking with the district attorney’s office, acknowledging that, given the extent of the damage, more charges may be in the offing.

Four fire departments responded to the blaze. The Bridgehampton department called for assistance from the Southampton, Sag Harbor, and East Hampton departments. Amagansett firefighters stood at the ready in Bridgehampton. The Sag Harbor Volunteer Ambulance Corps and the Southampton Village Volunteer Ambulance company also assisted. A Southampton Town Highway Department truck responded to sand the roads because of icy conditions caused by the water used to fight the fire.

A second injury related to the crash occurred Tuesday afternoon, when a fire inspector walking through the house fell through the floor, getting caught in wires before landing six feet below in the basement. On Sunday, Ms. Pivovarova had warned those surveying the damage to stay off the floor near the playroom because it was sagging, but the family had returned to their Williamsburg residence by Tuesday, so the fire inspector was not similarly warned. The extent of his injuries were not known as of press time.