Two women dead, one injured in Aquinnah auto accident

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Updated 2:55 pm, Wednesday

A single car crash on the Kennedy property off Moshup Trail in Aquinnah Tuesday afternoon, March 27, left two elderly women dead and one injured, after the driver of a 2000 Land Cruiser struck a tree head-on.

The driver, Judith Morse, 70, of West Tisbury, and the front seat passenger, Susan Lombard, 69, of Lyman, New Hampshire, died in the crash. The rear seat passenger, Susan Papanicolaou, 68, of Minneapolis, was treated for minor injuries at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.

Up-Island police and emergency medical personnel from several Island towns responded to a call at 12:10 pm. A vehicle had struck a tree on Red Gate Road off Moshup Trail, and there were serious injuries. The Martha’s Vineyard Hospital trauma team was alerted to stand by for two priority one patients. Priority one is the most serious medical emergency designation.

The driver, Ms. Morse, and the front seat passenger, Ms. Lombard, were pronounced dead at the hospital.

State Police Sgt. Thomas Medeiros happened to be visiting with Aquinnah Police Chief Randhi Belain when the 911 call issued. Both men rushed to the accident scene.

Chief Belain said the women had no permission to be on the property and had driven down the dirt road to a cluster of buildings that include the home of caretaker Albert Fischer.

Sergeant Medeiros said Ms. Morse was backing her Land Cruiser down the driveway when she lightly struck a tree. “She then attempted to drive forward, when the vehicle struck an electrical box, a porch attached to a garage, and then traveled up a hill striking a tree head on,” according to a State Police press statement issued Tuesday evening. “The total distance was approximately 319 feet.”

Sergeant Medeiros told The Times the preliminary investigation revealed no apparent mechanical problems. He said Mr. Fischer had not spoken with the women.

“He saw them backing up. He said he turned away and when he looked the car was gone,” Sergeant Medeiros said. “He went out to Moshup Trail looking for them to make sure they had left the property, and when he got out to Moshup Trail he realized they must still be on the property.”

When Mr. Fischer returned, he found the vehicle off a side lane and called 911.

“When we got there the car was at rest at the bottom of the hill in brush,” Chief Belain said. He said Ms. Morse may have suffered a medical emergency that caused her to step on the accelerator, or the vehicle’s air bags may have deployed when she struck the electrical box, causing her to step on the accelerator.

“There was no indication of any braking, that was for certain,” Mr. Belain said. “It was definitely bizarre. There was only one tree at the top of this hill and she hit it dead on.”

Chief Belain said he was grateful for the prompt emergency response in one of the more remote areas of the Island and for the teamwork under stressful conditions.

Chris Morse of West Tisbury said his mother was enjoying a day exploring Martha’s Vineyard with his aunt from Minneapolis and Ms. Lombard, a grade school friend of both women, from New Hampshire. “My aunt said they were having a beautiful day together,” he said.

Judith Morse had lived on the Island for more than 10 years and was a popular bridge player, Mr. Morse said. “She had a great zest for life and adventurous spirit,” he added.

Mr. Morse said the emergency efforts of first responders and hospital staff was extraordinary. “There has been an enormous outpouring of community support, all very much appreciated by my family,” he said.

The Cape and Islands State Police detective unit, State Police crime scene services section, and State Police collision analysis and reconstruction section arrived on the Island Tuesday afternoon. The accident continues to be under investigation, State Police said Tuesday night.

The Red Gate Farm property, formerly owned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, consists of 31 separate parcels on 366 acres off Moshup Trail. Caroline Kennedy and her husband, Edwin Schlossberg, are the owners.