SPRING HILL — William "Lucky" Luchsinger survived four tours in Vietnam, retired from the Marines as a colonel and made a second career out of the game he loved.
After more than 20 years spent working at golf courses, the 70-year-old Spring Hill resident was about to celebrate his latest achievement: the rebirth of the shuttered Spring Hill Golf & Country Club.
"He was biting at the bit to get it going," said girlfriend Judy Leverock.
Now the grand reopening will be bittersweet. Luchsinger was killed Tuesday evening when a car struck him on Sealawn Drive, not far from Leverock's house.
Friends say the wreck cut short the life of a gregarious, generous man who, as Leverock put it, "was supposed to live to be 120."
A native of Dubuque, Iowa, Luchsinger served in the Marines for 26 years, flying fighter jets in Vietnam, said longtime friend Wes Plitz of Spring Hill. During one of his four tours, Luchsinger ejected just before his fighter jet was shot down, Plitz said. Luchsinger earned two Silver Stars and a Bronze Star.
Luchsinger was working as assistant superintendent of the Northdale Golf Club in Tampa about 10 years ago when he met Roger Thompson. In 2010, Thompson leased Spring Hill Golf & Country Club, and Luchsinger came to work as superintendent. The course closed in 2011, but Thompson entered negotiations to purchase the property and made Luchsinger general manager.
Luchsinger moved into a small house on the property and worked 100-hour weeks with plans to open next month.
Leverock, 62, met Luchsinger on the golf course about three years ago. She fell in love with the divorced father of four's crooked smile, and the two dated on and off. About a month ago, they decided to commit.
"We were planning our future," she said.
About 6 p.m. Tuesday, the couple left Leverock's house for a walk with Leverock's dog, a black Lab-collie mix named Howie. They turned west on Sealawn, Leverock on the grass shoulder, Luchsinger on the white fog line. There is no sidewalk along the road.
Headlights appeared behind them. Howie darted across the street. They yelled for him to come back.
"That car was there in a heartbeat," Leverock said.
The Oldsmobile station wagon hit Luchsinger, then Howie. Both died at the scene.
The driver, Darren Deleonardis, 49, of Spring Hill, was not injured, the Florida Highway Patrol said. Neither were his two passengers, ages 5 and 2. No charges have been filed.
"Lucky's been a hero all his life, and he died a hero trying to get that little dog out of the road," Plitz said.
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Reach Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.