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Published: Thursday, 6/2/2011

Lockerbie case comes to Toledo in watch lawsuit

BY SHEENA HARRISON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

A watch recovered from the Lockerbie plane bombing is at the center of a legal battle set to play out in Lucas County Common Pleas Court this summer.

Cherry Peirce, the widow of Perrysburg architect Peter Peirce, is suing two employees of Estate Jewelry Buyers in Sylvania, alleging that they bought and sold more than $150,000 worth of jewelry that was stolen in 2008 from her Catawba Island home in Ottawa County. One of the pieces was a wristwatch worn by Mr. Peirce, who was one of 270 killed when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December, 1988.

Mrs. Peirce's complaint, filed in January, seeks compensatory and punitive damages of at least $600,000, plus injunctive relief to stop Edward and Myles Szymanski of Estate Jewelers from buying and selling jewelry. Estate Jewelers is not named as a defendant in the case, which is set to go to trial next month in front of Judge Stacy Cook.

"Our contention is that Estate Jewelers did not follow the proper procedures to determine that the person selling the jewelry was the lawful owner," said Richard Kerger, an attorney for Mrs. Peirce.

Edward and Myles Szymanski, the father and son team who operate Estate Jewelry Buyers, declined comment to The Blade. They have denied Mrs. Peirce's claims in court filings, saying the business unknowingly bought a ring and $300 in "costume jewelry" that were taken from Mrs. Peirce, but did not buy any other items stolen from her home.

Richard Ellenberger, an attorney for the Szymanskis, also declined comment.

Mr. Kerger said two window washers who had entry to Mrs. Peirce's home stole several pieces of jewelry that were hidden in the back of a dresser drawer. The items included her wedding rings, a 3.5-karat diamond ring, an emerald ring given to her by her late husband, and a watch that was retrieved from the plane wreckage after Mr. Peirce died in the Lockerbie crash.

Mrs. Peirce alleges in her original complaint the thieves sold "all of the stolen items" to Estate Jewelry Buyers for $900.

In a court filing last month, Edward Szymanski, the store's owner, said there was no evidence that Edward or Myles Szymanski, nor any Estate Jewelers employees, should have known that Mrs. Peirce's jewelry was stolen. One of the two thieves reportedly told Estate Jewelers that Mrs. Peirce's jewelry belonged to the suspect's grandmother or aunt, according court filings.

The Szymanskis say receipts show Estate Jewelers paid $600 for an 18-karat gold diamond ring and $300 for costume jewelry, and claim in filings that Mrs. Peirce's other jewelry was "simply disposed of elsewhere" by the robbers.

The defendants contend that they didn't have reason to hold the items because they weren't reported as stolen. Mr. Kerger said Mrs. Peirce did not pursue charges, in part, because the primary suspect in her jewelry theft already was expected to serve prison time for a separate offense.

The state Department of Commerce declined to comment on the case or laws for jewelry businesses such as Estate Jewelers, which is not licensed as a precious metal dealer in the state.

Mrs. Peirce's jewelry has not been recovered. Aside from the monetary value of her jewelry, Mr. Kerger said the theft of Mr. Peirce's watch -- the only item of his that was recovered from the Lockerbie crash -- represents an emotional loss for Mrs. Peirce that can't be recovered in court.

"It's one of those items that is truly irreplaceable," he said.

Contact Sheena Harrison at: sharrison@theblade.com or 419-724-6103



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