A German billionaire who was heir to a coffee empire and one of the largest individual landowners in Newton County died after a boat struck him while he was swimming in Lake Rabun Saturday.
Joachim Herz, 65, owner of the Little Springs Farm on Ga. Highway 36 in Newton County, was visiting friends at a lake house and swam out into the main channel away from the main swimming area when an 18-foot ski boat made a left turn and struck him, said Jennifer Barnes, senior public relations and information specialist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
The boater, a 43-year-old man from Forsyth, went back after he realized he hit something and pulled Herz from the water with the help of another boater, but Herz was essentially killed upon impact, said Barnes. No charges have been filed as of Thursday. The Department of Natural Resources, which investigated the incident, said neither alcohol nor excessive speed was involved in the accident.
Forbes magazine listed Herz as the 368th richest man in the world with an estimated net worth of about $3 billion. Along with five other siblings and his mother, Herz inherited a coffee fortune built by his father and part of a Hamburg-based company that owns coffee retailer Tchibo and the company that makes Nivea-brand products, according to Bloomberg.com. Herz was also one of the founding members of an Atlanta realty company Coro Realty Advisors, LLC.
In Newton County, Herz had long owned farm land along Ga. Highway 36 and Moores Road, totaling more than 2,700 acres with a value of more than $9.3 million, according to Newton County Tax Assessor Tommy Knight, making him the largest individual landowner in the county. The Herzs paid just under $118,000 in property taxes for 2007.
An employee who answered the phone at the farm Wednesday said they had been advised by the family not to comment and that the family would not be commenting.
It is unknown what will happen to the land, but a request to allow Herz to be buried on the farm was granted Tuesday, according to District 5 Commissioner Monty Laster, chair of the cemetery committee.
Knight said he had never met Herz but called him a "quiet steward of the land."
The farm, an expanse of tranquil, rolling green fields dotted with grazing cattle and several lakes and ponds, had sustained heavy tornado damage back in 2005 and is currently zoned for agricultural and residential use.
Herz and his wife Petra largely kept to themselves, say community members, and would fly in on an airstrip to the property. The Herzs were major donors to the Atlanta chapter of the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists Foundation and also had property in Hamburg, Germany, according to Bloomberg.com
The Newton County School System looked into purchasing some of his land for Alcovy High School but had been turned down, said NCSS Construction Projects Manager Don Wood.
A private funeral for close friends and family was held, according to globest.com.