Driver dies when truck runs off East Chop bluff
The search ended on Saturday for an Edgartown man who, police believe, drove his pickup truck off the bluffs at East Chop on Thursday afternoon. Oak Bluffs police and fire personnel recovered the body of Benjamin Viera, 35, at approximately 8:30 am on Saturday in Vineyard Haven Harbor.
According to Oak Bluffs Police Lieutenant Tim Williamson, a passenger on the Steamship Authority ferry Island Home departing Vineyard Haven at 7 am spotted Mr. Viera's body floating in the water off the R.M. Packer Company dock in Vineyard Haven Harbor. The passenger notified the purser, and he called the Island communications center.
The grim discovery ended a search that began late Thursday when family members called Edgartown Police to say that they were worried about Mr. Viera's welfare. Earlier in the day Mr. Viera, called Benny by those who knew him, had left a disturbing message with a friend. Detective Ken Johnson said Mr. Viera, of Jernegan Avenue in Edgartown, had recently experienced personal problems.
Photo courtesy Viera family
Police attempted to locate Mr. Viera throughout the evening.
East Chop Drive wraps around East Chop and provides a popular scenic detour for visitors and Islanders driving between Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven. Traffic is generally light in the off-season and most of the spacious homes that line the road are unoccupied at this time of the year.
Based on their investigation, police suspect that Mr. Viera's truck went off the bluff about 2:30 pm Thursday afternoon. However, the vehicle was not discovered until much later that night.
About 2 am on Friday morning, an Oak Bluffs police officer saw a damaged concrete guard post along the bluff where the end of Harrison Avenue, a dirt road, intersects East Chop Drive.
The officer saw vehicle tracks and walked down the cliff along a service track but was unable to see anything in the dark water. The fire department was called.
Using powerful searchlights, police and fire officials were able to locate Mr. Viera's 2004 Chevy Silverado pickup truck in the water about 3 am Friday morning.
Lieutenant Williamson estimated the drop from the roadway to the boulder-lined base of the bluffs and the water below at more than 50 feet. "The vehicle did clear the rocks and ended up in about 15 feet of water," said Lieutenant Williamson.
Photo by Susan Safford
After the vehicle was located, Sergeant George Fisher began an immediate search and rescue operation along the shore and in the water. Oak Bluffs police and fire personnel received assistance from the Coast Guard, which dispatched a 41-foot motor lifeboat and a helicopter.
The vehicle was retrieved at 6:30 am Friday. John Leite, owner of JWL Transport, said he used all of a heavy hydraulic wrecker's 200-feet of cable and additional chains to reach the vehicle that he said was out some 60 feet beyond the rocks.
The truck was winched up the bluff. The back window was smashed out, said Lieutenant Williamson.
The search for Mr. Viera continued throughout the day Friday on the water and along the shore. Dive teams from Oak Bluffs and Edgartown suspended their search for Mr. Viera in the icy waters off East Chop late Friday afternoon.
Lieutenant Williamson said many of the rescue personnel involved in the search had been up all night. The search was suspended so that people could get warm and get some rest, and plans were made to resume the search on Saturday morning.
Sometime over the weekend a bouquet of flowers and a cross rested against the flattened concrete guard post on East Chop Drive, near where tire tracks led to the edge of the bluff.
Photo by Steve Myrick
The discovery of the body brought some comfort to a family that was left struggling with their sudden and shocking loss.
Joyce Viera, Benjamin's mother, told The Times that a lifelong friend of her son was on the ferry Saturday morning, and he was the one who spotted him. She said her son was a typical Islander who enjoyed fishing and shellfishing. He was also a skilled mechanic and had worked for years at McIntosh Motors.
Mrs. Viera said the family was very grateful to the Edgartown and Oak Bluffs police and fire departments for their tireless efforts. She said the community has been very supportive.
Steve Purcell of Edgartown, a friend, said Benny was a nice guy who loved to spend time with his family. "He'd help anyone," said Mr. Purcell.
A graveside service is planned for 1 pm on Saturday in the Oak Grove Cemetery in Vineyard Haven.