Chappy ferry plunge leads to charges
Edgartown Police last week filed charges against the driver of a 2006 Mercedes SUV that rolled off the end of the Chappaquiddick ferry and fell into the cold, dark waters of Edgartown Harbor the night of March 25.
Edgartown Police Sergeant Ken Johnson said police cited Susan McLean, 54, of Ambler, Pa., with negligent operation of a motor vehicle and operating under the influence of alcohol.
Ms. McLean, her daughter, Audrey McLean, 19, and Alexander Tasch, 23, of Nantucket boarded the ferry at 11 pm last Tuesday night for its last scheduled trip from Edgartown to Chappaquiddick.
According to a police press release issued after the accident, Ms. McLean said that after boarding the ferry, she placed her vehicle in neutral. Her passengers said Ms. McLean pretended to steer the ferry with her steering wheel.
Police said that doing so, Ms. McLean dislodged the chock in front of the front wheel, and as the ferry slowed down while approaching the slip "the vehicle traveled forward and entered the water."
Mr. Tasch opened a window before the car sank. He was able to climb out and then assist Ms. McLean and her daughter out of the car. Brad Fligor, the ferry captain, then helped the three climb up on the ferry.
Steve Ewing, a dock builder, brought his towboat over to the slip and a diver attached a line to the rear axle. Mr. Ewing pulled the submerged vehicle out of the slip and over toward the shore. A tow truck was then able to winch the Mercedes up onto the beach.
In a telephone conversation following the accident, Ms. McLean told The Times her car was in neutral, and she simply forgot to put it in park. She said the captain did not instruct her to do otherwise. She said she did not turn off her engine.
Sergeant Johnson told The Times Tuesday police did administer a partial field sobriety test but did not charge her at the scene, because she was being treated for hypothermia in the ambulance, and officers assumed she would go to Martha's Vineyard Hospital where a physician would conduct an examination. However, Ms. McLean refused to be transported to the hospital and booked a room at the Kelley House, where she and her two passengers spent the night. Sergeant Johnson said police went to her room later that night, but no one answered the door.
Photo by Bob Fynbo
Peter Wells, a longtime Chappaquiddick resident and ferry captain, purchased the ferry from prior owner Roy Hayes in January. On Monday night, Mr. Wells and Mr. Fligor attended the selectmen's meeting and thanked all of the emergency service personnel who had responded to the scene of the accident.
Mr. Wells told the selectmen he had been advised not to speak about the accident while it is under investigation, but he said he was very happy everyone was all right.
A prominent sign on the ferry instructs vehicle drivers not to start their engines until the safety chain that normally hangs between two posts on either side of the exit is lowered. In a telephone call Mr. Wells confirmed that following the accident one of the hooks used to attach the chain during the crossing needed to be re-welded to its post.
He said, as with all drivers who pay cash, Ms. McLean received a voucher for a return trip that instructs drivers to set their parking brakes.
Mr. Wells thanked all those who responded. "I'm also grateful for young Alexander Tasch for being such a quick thinker, and Brad [Fligor] for acting so quickly," he said.
The Coast Guard is investigating the accident, as it does all accidents involving licensed passenger vessels.
The accident had an interesting postscript. When the car sank, Ms. McLean and daughter lost several pieces of luggage. Sergeant Johnson said this week police received a call from Nantucket. The mother's toiletry bag was found on Nantucket's Eel Point Beach.
"That thing did some traveling," Sgt. Johnson observed.