Two sides to Lincolnton native facing SC Maserati murder charge

AP Photo/Tricia Gordon
This April 25, 2009 shows the Maserati driven by John Ludwig after he crashed into the home of Frederic Bardsley, who was killed while watching television in Greenville, S.C.

GREENVILLE, S.C. — Frederic Bardsley was sitting in his den, waiting for his son to come over and watch an NBA game. John Ludwig was driving his Maserati from a wedding reception to a downtown restaurant.

 

Their lives collided last month, police say, when Ludwig, a Lincolnton, Ga., native, veered off the road going between 85 and 96 mph and slammed into the back of Bardsley's house so hard his car ended up in the front yard.

Bardsley, 62, died and Ludwig was charged with murder, but only after irate residents picketed a local prosecutor's office.

People who know Ludwig, 36, describe two seemingly different people: He's the college athlete-turned-businessman who helped a home for abused and neglected boys. But he's also the man who, besides the car crash, is charged with breaking into a house and with hitting his wife, at least once in front of their young son.

On Friday, as he appeared by videoconference to ask a judge to release him on bond, he briefly apologized for the crash.

"I take 100 percent responsibility for the accident," he said. "I can't say how sorry I am."

Judge Eugene Griffith is expected to make a decision on bond this week.

Greenville attorney Jimmy Brehm, who represented Ludwig's wife in their ongoing divorce until he says Ludwig threatened him, contends Ludwig is worth tens of millions of dollars and has never had to take responsibility for anything.

"The system has in effect created a monster," Brehm said. "Either nothing happens, or he's been able to pay his way out of it."

Ludwig has 13 speeding convictions since 1999. State law allows officials to revoke someone's license if he or she racks up 10 serious violations within three years, but most of Ludwig's convictions were for lesser offenses.

He's also been charged with criminal domestic violence twice in the past six months and was arrested in August after his wife accused him of making harassing phone calls — as many as 27 in one day.

When he was arrested last week for Bardsley's death, he was out on bond on a burglary charge. Authorities said he kicked in the door of a Greenville home last summer and chased a man who was dating his estranged wife and refused to let him in. Police records show an officer shocked Ludwig with a stun gun after he refused to cooperate.

"It is clear that Mr. Ludwig's character and his respect for authority is absent," prosecutor Bob Ariail said Friday in court. "The public needs to be protected from this individual ... he is a potential menace."

If convicted of murder, Ludwig could face 30 years to life in prison. But the picture prosecutors paint doesn't ring true to people who have worked with him in the community. The Lincolnton, Ga., native came to Greenville in 1990 to attend Furman University, where he was a star football player.

Since graduation, school officials say the business major has continued to give back. In 2006, he was selected as Furman's outstanding young alum and he's also a member of the school's Paladin Club, which raises money for student-athlete scholarships.

In 2000, he founded SDI Networks, a technology consulting firm with eight offices throughout the Southeast, and gave Furman grads jobs, said Tom Triplitt, the school's alumni director.

He also served on the board of a Greenville County group home for abandoned youth.

"He certainly did care about the boys," said Kathy Cook, executive director of the Boys Home of the South.

Little of it matters to the people who cared about Bardsley, whose wife was upstairs in the two-story Greenville home when Ludwig's car slammed into it. Francina Bardsley was unhurt in the April 25 crash.

"I don't want to see anyone have to spend the rest of their life in jail, but at the same time, my God, this is totally senseless," said Tricia Gordon, 36, who lives down the street. "If my kids had been walking down the road, they would have been hit by flying debris."

Ludwig attorney Billy Wilkins has said his client was not driving recklessly and lost control of the sports car after swerving to miss deer. He declined to discuss the case with The Associated Press.

People in the community picketed the prosecutor's office alleging Ludwig was getting preferential treatment when charges weren't brought immediately. They were filed 11 days later. Critics were especially upset that troopers said there was no evidence to do a blood-alcohol test, though Wilkins maintains drugs and alcohol were not a factor.

"They're talking about that they need probable cause," Gordon said. "I'm thinking, 'Wouldn't the car through the house be probable cause?' Sober folks don't drive through a house."

But the people who know Ludwig's charitable side still find the murder charge hard to believe.

"So much of it, it's like they're mad at him because he's been successful and has money. And that's the wrong reason to be mad at somebody," Triplitt says. "It's not a crime to be successful. And certainly he's having a tough time."

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