FAYETTEVILLE— Six months ago, just before Valentine’s Day 2013, a photographer and I came to Bordino’s restaurant to document Jesse Vincent washing dishes. He was focused and quiet. At one point, he timidly ordered us to stay out of the way of the servers. I could barely hear him.

Above the two-way doors connecting the dining room with the kitchen was a sign that read: “Respect: Give some. Earn some. Get some.” During conversations that night with the executive chef of four years, and the new dishwasher of four weeks I could tell that Jesse had given it, earned it and gotten it. As far as the seven figures goes, he was awarded that and then lost it.

“Jesse doesn’t share his story with anyone,” said Emily Lawson, Vincent’s ex wife. “The night I met him, he was sitting at a bar in Eureka with big, died-red hair and a huge beard. He had on a purple, hand made, unbuttoned shirt and crushed-velvet purple pants,” Lawson said. That was in 2001. They were married four years later and five years after that they split.

“When we split up it was the easiest split up you could have,” Lawson said.  “I was busy going to medical school. He was washing dishes with a broken body, and it broke my heart.”

“His girlfriend and sister testified saying you have no idea, how much this has changed Jesse’s personality,” Lawson said remembering Vincent’s personality change after he awoke from a coma. “He was so bright eyed, but not after the accident.” Some people also noticed changes the lost money caused. 

“He’s happier now, than he was when he was rich,” said Harry McDermott, a local attorney and art enthusiast. McDermott remembers meeting Vincent at a Halloween art show at Gallery 111 in Fayetteville during the mid ’90s, just before Vincent got the money. “He showed up with his stripper girlfriend from New Orleans with these out-of-this-world painted pumpkins. You know Jesse is an incredible artist?” McDermott asked. Vincent doesn’t work on his art anymore. At least I had never seen him creating. According to Vincent, he’d been sketching graphic novel ideas since he was in kindergarten, but life has squeezed him in to a predictable routine. But as a dad he’s ok with that.

Among the many times I saw Jessie, he was happiest with his son, Thorin. They spend the weekends together. Thorin shares his daddy’s cheerfulness and love of comic books.

“Jesse is a great father,” McDermott said. “He’s got the best comic book collection in Arkansas.” This is because Vincent acquired thousands of rare comic books when he bought two comic books stores in New Orleans with some of the settlement money.

Monday through Friday, as long as Vincent has a pack of American Spirits—which he smokes down to the filter every time—and a dry walk from his house in South Fayetteville, to work or Marvin’s IGA, he’s great. If it is raining he might just wear a scuba diving suit, with goggles and flippers or his see-through-plastic leisure suit. To heck with driving a car.

“Yeah sometimes I’ll just wear random outfits,” Vincent said on a slow Tuesday night, a few months after we met. “I wore a plastic leisure suit to work once.” You should have been here yesterday one of the chefs said in passing; “he wore a hat with big ram horns.” He has the best pants another chef said, motioning to the handsome, off-yellowish-green polyester.

Thirteen years ago, Vincent was a millionaire.  He was a 28-year-old, living off of $1.8 million that he never worked for, but is to some degree still paying for in the form of a limp. The warped metal rod is still in his left shank and bows out causing his left foot to club when he walks. Of the shoes I’ve noticed him in, all of the left shoes are severely deformed.

Vincent doesn’t own a car and doesn’t plan to, although he did once. Right after he was awarded the money by the state of Florida, he remembers a phone call.

“My attorney’s secretary asked me over the phone, ooo!! what kind of car are you getting? I was thinking maybe a nice 70’s van,” he said. “The first car I bought as a millionaire was a Ford Econoline van, but I never drove it.”

“I figure if I walk around just being nice to everyone, eventually something would happen,” he said during our first meeting in early February. He was shy and reluctant to take the first and only beer I offered him. “I don’t usually drink before work,” he said. His presence was strangely calming. Apparently he had this effect on people 25 years ago.

Chrispen, back in 1988, was primed to meet “Jesus.” Chrispen told me that’s what the kids in high school called Jesse. “He looked like Jesus, but it was more about his demeanor, he was very accepting to people, and seemed to care more about people than stuff.” Jesse was about to go the extra mile, for a stranger.

“On the day I met Jesse, I had decided to run away from the foster home I lived in,” Crispin said. The foster mother said, that if Crispin went to school dressed the way he was, he couldn’t come back. But he couldn’t go in and change because “the bus was coming, what did she expect me to do?” he said. 

“Jesse approached me in the hall at school to see what was wrong, so I told him and he said he’d help me run away, and that he’d help me carry my stuff.” Chrispen wouldn’t see his accomplice until years later.

Just before he was to graduate from high school in 1990, he put that theory to the test and hitchhiked from Owosso, Mich. to West Palm Beach, Fla. Vincent said he wanted to see his girlfriend who’d moved there. After an eight-day hitchhike down I-75 he did.

Two weeks after arrival Vincent had a job at a call center. He was raising sponsorship money for local EMS. He hadn’t made enough for a place to stay, but the mattress he found in some woods behind a church was working. The girlfriend didn’t work out.

One evening while walking to a grocery store he was run over by a police officer driving an unmarked car traveling 55 miles per hour. Undercover officer Robert Poje motored through Vincent as he crossed Congress Avenue just north of Forest Hill Boulevard, chipping him straight up in the air like a botched approach out of a sand pit.

In a coma, Vincent spent several weeks in a West Palm Beach hospital and had multiple corrective surgeries to his hips and legs. When he woke up he had metal rods protruding from his hips nearly a foot in front of him like handlebars. His parents took him back home to Michigan where he would recover, take some business classes at Lancing Community College and start the legal battles. Vincent remembers being in court for several years. When he could, Vincent decided to move to New Orleans, this made the several trips to the Floridian court system quicker. He remembered a juror early on in the series of cases speaking about the trial on the radio, which slowed the process of justice. Nonetheless he won the suit.

“Jesse Vincent, shall recover from the Defendant, Richard P. Wille, Sheriff of Palm Beach County $1.86 million that shall bear interest at 12% a year,” according to Palm Beach court documents from ’95.

“I don’t feel like I changed as a person when I got the money,” Vincent said. “I never cared about money, but when I got it, I could do whatever I wanted.” Like the time he got a call from his friend Stu, who was staying under a bridge near Notre-Dame de Paris, so he decided to go and stay under the bridge with Stu for 3 months.

And from a newspaper clipping from the Palm Beach Post:

“A jury determined that Poje was 98 percent responsible for the accident. An expert later testified that had Poje been paying attention, he could have avoided Vincent, who was then 19. Vincent suffered numerous broken bones, has had several surgeries and will require medical treatment for the rest of his life, a doctor testified.

The Senate voted 36-3 to pay Vincent $ 1.8 million. All of Palm Beach County's senators approved the expenditure.”

The reason the Florida Senate voted to give him the money was because under Florida law, government entities have sovereign immunity. In Jesse’s case, the Palm Beach Sherriff’s Department had $100,000 limit of liability.  

“So we filed what’s called a claims bill in Jesse’s name and it was passed by the legislature,” Mark W. Clark said, Jesse’s attorney at the time in ‘94. “Which is very rarely seen. But Jesse was a kind, gentle person, live-and-let-live type, a real likeable guy,” Clark said.

Jesse did have something working against him, Clark said. His appearance. He had hair down to his butt. Clark addressed the hair issue up front by asking the jurors, had they any bad experiences associated with their hair? He said there were military men and parents who had trouble with kids and hair and began discussing their experiences, all to expose prejudice against physical appearance.

“The closing argument of the defense got up and said that Vincent was a long-haired hippie and vagabond living in the woods and shouldn’t get all this money, the jury at that point, hated the defense because they had fallen in love with Jesse,” Clark said. Another person I found who loves Jesse was Jessica Eris.

Eris remembers travelling to Louisiana to see “Jesse in his big house” in the late ’90s.

“Jesse met us at his front door naked and he’d been drinking heavily,”

Eris said. “He jumped into my arms and gave me, or tried to give me a lap-dance.” Cutting through that happy moment was a foul smell.

“We told Jesse he had dog shit on his foot, and I kid you not he grabbed a wad of cash he had sitting in piles here and there, and wiped the poop off his feet,” Eris said. She along with Jesse’s ex-wife, remembers him to be very easy with his money and just easy in general.

Nineteen years later Vincent was treating me to some of his single serving, on the stovetop coffee, which was nice on a frigid February day in Fayetteville. We’d been talking about the settlement money and who cared for it. That’s where the memories get fuzzy. “I remember calling my financial people in 2006 and asking, what’s this number in brackets off to the side of the balance?”

That lack of care and attention certainly left him unprotected. For 5 years he failed to discover that he had lost $500,000 in 2001. “I remember them getting off the phone and fumbling around and then getting back on to tell him, ‘that’s how much you lost in 2001 Jesse.’” He was shocked in that moment. I attempted to contact Paul Auslander of American Financial, Jesse’s once financial counsel, but all attempts were ignored.

“Jesse’s broker gave most of his money to a guy peddling pyramid schemes,” McDermott said. “A lot of Hollywood people lost money through that guy and he eventually went to jail.” McDermott was certain of this, but couldn’t recall a name.

“That’s the one thing I regret, is not having the money for my son,” Vincent said.  There were posters on every sea foam green wall having something to do with comic books or graphic novels. Also, a wall dedicated to Thorin’s drawings. Like father, like son. Jesse stood up and limped over to the front door to let Jasko, his dog out. Vincent describes the dog as a midget, longhaired Rottweiler. It was cold that day, and the little, old house was struggling to hold the heat radiated by a Glo-Warm furnace protruding from the wall next to the front door.

We were preparing to go to Realms Anime, on College Avenue, to buy Thorin presents for his upcoming birthday. Jesse was looking to buy several of the Ben Ten series action figures. In the bag were the following: Chromastone, Humungaousaur, Swampfire, Spidermonkey and of course Ben Tennyson himself. “I like this series because it teaches him good morals.”

“When we split up, it was the easiest split up you could have.  We were married for five years starting in ’05,” Lawson said. “Jesse is by far the most selfless individual I know,” she said, “to the point of hurting those around him.” 

“I heard you are writing a story on Jesse?” asked Rachael, a veteran waitress. Yeah, I said, “what’s he like?” “There have been some crazy nights here when people were running around stressed, while Jesse stayed the same old smiling Jesse.” Did you know Jesse was worth over a million dollars once, I asked. “No,” she replied.

 

(1) comment

karenlang

I know jessie and was exited to read about him its exactly the way i remember him just being himself first time i met him he was wearing wholely black jeans with purple fish nets stockings over them haha great times!!!

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.