Turns out there’s a reason Belle Meade has its own crackerjack police force: West Nashville drivers are a rough bunch. Accost someone for speeding down your neighborhood street and you’re liable to wind up at Vanderbilt Hospital. At least that’s the lesson part-time Nashville resident Gary Loving learned last Friday night after confronting a driver that he thought was going too fast; for opening his mouth, Loving got his skull opened. The driver was taken to night court.
Belle Meade is abuzz this week with news about the arrest of Rich Roberts, a very well heeled mega-capitalist who bloodied the owner of two laser hair removal centers and sent him to the hospital in the back of an ambulance Friday night.
With three broken bones in his face and “potential brain damage,” as he tells the Scene, Loving’s in pretty sorry shape. Reached at his home on Tuesday, he declined to comment on the events of the evening. “I’m kind of jelly right now,” he says politely, perhaps in a Percocet-induced haze. “I probably shouldn’t be talking about anything.”
Here’s what’s known. Roberts, driving a white Lexus convertible, picked up his 12-year-old son after a middle school dance at Harding Academy. It was about 10:30 at night as the two headed down Windsor Drive. A police report indicates that’s when Gary and Teresa Loving heard a car “flying down the road.” They yelled for the car to slow down, at which point it stopped. Roberts got out and yelled back at them. Next, the report says, Roberts went back to his car (where his son was presumably waiting) before coming back once more. That’s when he hit Loving, “causing the victim to drop to the ground.” He then got in his car and drove away.
Attorneys at the law firm representing Roberts say he has a story that differs dramatically from the police report. Roberts was not speeding, they say, and the Lovings were dressed in black, and obscured behind a parked car when they screamed at him to slow down. Loving, according to this version of events, was the aggressor: he was close enough for flecks of spit to hit Roberts in the mouth and, eventually, Loving bumped him. That’s when Roberts gave him a forearm to back him off.
Either way, Roberts and son were soon stopped by a Belle Meade cop on the town’s signature boulevard. According to Officer Shawn O’Brien’s report, the man stepped out of his vehicle and said, “I’m the guy you’re looking for.” He smelled of booze, O’Brien wrote, but blew a .03 percent blood alcohol level, which is well below the .08 percent DUI threshold. “The defendant assaulted the victim in front of [Roberts’] 12-year-old son,” the report says. “The son stated that he [had] seen what he believed to be the victim’s blood.”
Though he may have disqualified himself for any Father of the Year awards (did we mention the 2002 DUI charge?), Roberts is a remarkably successful Nashville entrepreneur. He made hundreds of millions of dollars in the 1990s from a bankcard payment processing company he founded and took public with business partner Greg Daily. The 1998 merger that made them their fortune was valued at more that $1 billion. At press time, Roberts’ new payment processing services company, Verus Financial Management, was announcing a major deal with Office Depot to equip its 978 locations with a product that will allow its stores to process checks and credit card transactions via phone.
Domestically, things aren’t so smooth. Roberts is divorcing, and sources say he’s looking to unload his 20,000-square-foot mansion on Page Road. He’s viewed in West Nashville social circles as a wild man—an unrefined “Belle Meade outlaw,” as one acquaintance put it—who wasn’t granted membership in the ZIP code’s stuffy country club. No fewer than five people told the Scene the following anecdote by way of characterization: Bobby and Carol Frist’s large home, on a sloping hill that overlooks the Roberts’ manor, is reportedly named “Glimpse of Glory.” Roberts’ home, of course, is named “Glory.”
Nashville real estate developer Mark McDonald has known Roberts for 25 years and defends his friend. “Rich has got a big heart, he’s extremely generous and an extremely responsible member of this community,” he says. “I’m highly confident at the end of the day this is going to be much about very little.”
This week, however, it’s the talk of the town’s social set. And if the laser hair removal guy files a multimillion-dollar personal injury lawsuit against Roberts—as in Harding Academy’s Roberts Gymnasium—that would no doubt create another round of headlines. Belle Meade residents, who are clearly getting some lurid enjoyment out of their own luxury version of street crime, say they’ll be thinking twice before screaming at (alleged!) speeders. “We yell at people all the time to slow down,” says one. “It’s kind of scary to think you might get punched out.”