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Dallas Billionaire Charles Wyly Dies In Colorado Wreck

Updated 8/8/2011 @ 5:35 p.m.

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Billionaire Charles Wyly, who donated $20 million to build the landmark theater bearing his and his wife's namesake in the AT&T Performing Arts Center and was one of the subjects of a federal insider trading investigation, died Sunday morning in a car wreck on an Aspen, Colo. highway.

At about 11 a.m., the 77-year-old was turning left onto Colorado Highway 82 in his Porsche Targa when another driver in a Ford Freestyle slammed into Wyly's driver's side, a Colorado State Patrol spokesman said in release. He was the only person in the vehicle, and the Ford's driver suffered "moderate" injuries, the spokesman added.

Wyly was pronounced dead about an hour later at Aspen Valley Hospital. Initial findings at the scene do not suspect alcohol or drugs were involved in the collision, a statement said. No charges were filed, although the accident remains under investigation and an autopsy is pending.

The Denver Post reported Sunday that Wyly "maintains" a home in Woody Creek, about 10 miles away from Aspen.

A release issued Sunday night credited Wyly with "a major role" in the creation of the AT&T Performing Arts Center in the Arts District downtown.

"We would not have had the Center without him," said Bess Enloe, vice-chair of the Center's board of directors, in the statement. "He was one of the critical people who really made it happen. He understood how the Center, over time, would absolutely transform the city of Dallas, and he never lost sight of that."

Along with his brother Sam, Charles Wyly was co-founder of Michaels Stores Inc., the nationwide arts and crafts retail chain they sold in 2006.

The entrepreneur was also a founder of USACafes – responsible for the Bonanza Steakhouse chain – as well as Green Mountain Energy and Sterling Software Inc., which had international reach when it was sold in 2000, but also triggered an investigation of insider trading by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2010.

The investigation alleges the brothers made $550 million in undisclosed gains of 13 years by trading in securities of companies they controlled or were officers in.

The brothers have each vehemently denied those claims, and their attorney William Brewer called the charges "without merit" when they were presented in July 2010.

Wyly and his wife Dee were major donors for Dallas arts and charity organizations.

The Dee and Charles Wyly Theater, which was designed by REX/OMA Joshua Prince-Ramus and Pritzker Prize winning architect Rem Koolhaus, is a cornerstone of the AT&T Performing Arts Center. It won the American Institute of Steel Construction's National Architecture and Engineering Award last year and the nearly 81,000 square foot theater was the 2011 recipient of the American Institute of Architect's Honor Award.

Wyly was also heavily involved with The Salvation Army, having been associated with the charity for 40 years.

"I think that kind of commitment will be hard to replace," said John Crawford, President and CEO of Downtown Dallas, Inc.   Crawford advised and supported the Salvation Army alongside Wyly for most of those 40 years.

"He was very quiet, and was very committed to helping those out in the community, be it in the arts district or the Salvation Army or a number of other things."  Crawford adds, "That was not just a one-shot deal.  He was very active with a number of organizations through the years that related to the arts, he enjoyed the arts."

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings knew Wyly only briefly, but he was well aware of the businessman's impact on the city.

"When one person like Charles Wyly steps up other people jump in and give money," Rawlings said.  "And it creates a momentum that's fabulous.  And so we're less a city today because of Mr. Wyly's passing."

CBS 11 reporter Bud Gillett contributed to this story.

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