Posted: Feb. 26, 2004


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

Richard T. Collins, once a rising Republican star elected New Castle County executive and state auditor, was found bleeding and apparently beaten last Friday morning in front of his Rehoboth Beach home in a mysterious mishap that has the state police investigating.

Collins, 58, still was being treated Thursday for a severe head injury at Christiana Hospital near Newark, where he was taken after initially being examined at the Beebe Medical Center's emergency room in Lewes, according to Cpl. Jeff Oldham, the state police's public information officer for Kent and Sussex counties.

Police went to Collins' house near the Rehoboth Beach Country Club after a passer-by spotted him lying by his front steps at about 7 a.m. Friday, Oldham said.

What happened to Collins is unknown. Although he told police he fell down the steps, some of his friends interviewed by Delaware Grapevine say it appeared he was beaten up, leaving blood in his car and inside his house, which was in disarray.

State police are investigating whether there was an assault. "His statements to the police have been that he fell down," Oldham said. "We obviously don't know if that's the truth."

Collins' friends say he has been scuffling through life in recent years, two decades after he left public office and became a banker, a career he followed until 1999. It was a sharp contrast to what had come before.

Collins had some glamour to him when he entered politics in 1974, running for state auditor at 28 years old when the voters were looking for youth and freshness to wash away the taint of Watergate, the scandal that brought down President Richard M. Nixon.

A Sussex County native from Bethel, Collins ran for office as a a University of Delaware graduate and Vietnam War veteran awarded a Bronze Star in the army in 1969. He won three elections for state auditor when the post carried a two-year term.

Collins in the 1970s often was regarded as the Republican side of a handsome pair of political bookends opposite Thomas R. Carper, the Democratic side who was 29 when he was elected state treasurer in 1976 and went on to be a congressman, governor and senator.

Collins was elected New Castle County executive in 1980 and participated in one of the landmark events in Delaware's political and economic history, working with Republican Gov. Pierre S. du Pont and Wilmington Democratic Mayor William T. McLaughlin on the Financial Center Development Act, the 1981 legislation that brought the banks here.

When Collins' four-year term was up, he switched to private life, joining Citibank Delaware, one of the banks drawn to the state by the new law. He was a top executive there until stepping away five years ago.

He settled in Rehoboth Beach, where he was found Friday, fallen far from where he once was.