Ashley Peters, 22, of Edgartown appeared in Edgartown District Court Friday morning, to be arraigned on charges of operating under the influence of alcohol, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, speeding, and marked lanes violations. State Police Sergeant Thomas Medeiros told Ms. Peters she is fortunate to be able to appear in court.
Ms. Peters was behind the wheel of her 2006 Saturn Ion, driving from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown, when she drove off Beach Road just before Big Bridge, went across a dirt parking lot striking a sign, over a rock embankment, and plunged into Sengekontacket Pond just before 1 am, Friday morning.
Big Bridge spans one of two channels that allow an exchange of water between the pond and Nantucket Sound. At the height of the tidal flow, the current is a rushing torrent.
Bob “Hawkeye” Jacobs of Oak Bluffs is a late night fisherman. Friday morning he was fishing on Big Bridge when Ms. Peters went into the water.
Sergeant Medeiros said, “Mr. Jacobs immediately rushed to the vehicle and assisted Ms. Peters from the vehicle, which floated to the middle of the channel and submerged.”
“Well, you never know what’s going to happen when you go fishing,” Mr. Jacobs told The Times in a telephone conversation.
Mr. Jacobs said he is used to vehicles driving by him on the bridge and pays little attention. He said he first thought someone was pulling into the parking lot. Then he heard the sound of metal striking metal.
“I thought they hit my car, but when I looked, that car just kept going. It never slowed down. It hit a sign, just kept going through the dirt area, down the rocks, and into the water.”
The car was partly submerged, but afloat. Mr. Jacobs yelled, unsure how many people were inside or what he should, or could do. “I couldn’t reach the car,” he said. “I would have had to go in the water to get into the car and I had multiple layers of clothing on. The current was moving pretty good.”
He kept yelling and shone his fishing light at the driver’s side window. He does not own a cell phone and had no way to call for help.
Seeing two cars driving from Edgartown, he ran up to the roadway and began waving his arms and shining his light to flag them down. The vehicles drove by without stopping.
Mr. Jacobs said that when he is fishing there at night there always seems to be a steady stream of headlights. That night, after the two cars passed him, the road was deserted. “There were no lights in either direction coming,” he said. “It was the first time ever.”
He ran back down and climbed down the rocks. Ms. Peters began to move and climbed out the window. “She yelled over to me, ‘Can you help me, can you help me.'”
“The water was about chest high,” Mr. Jacobs said. Ms. Peters reached out her arm and Mr. Jacobs grabbed it. “As she was getting out, she must have pushed against the car, and the car slid right down and went fully submerged. And that’s the scary thing.”
“It’s just so fortunate it was teetering on the rocks,” he said. “If it had gone fully submerged right away I don’t think the outcome would have been good, and I just don’t know what I could have done.”
Mr. Jacobs pulled Ms. Peters out of the water and onto the rock on which he was standing. “She was soaking wet and she was shivering,” he said.
He gave her some spare clothing from his car. Not one car had passed by since the two cars he’d tried to flag earlier.
“Finally, a car came from the Edgartown direction, and I went right out in the middle of the lane. I said, ‘This guy’s not getting by me.'”
It was an off-duty police officer. “I could not have been luckier picking that guy to flag down. He had a radio, and he called everybody that needed to be called. The next thing there were probably eight police cars there.”
Oak Bluffs firefighters and members of the fire department dive team rushed to the scene. The car was later pulled from the water.
Ms. Peters was transported to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, where she was treated and released. Then she went to jail.
“She is very fortunate,” Sergeant Medeiros told The Times Friday in a telephone call. “I told her in court, it doesn’t really make much difference what happens here. You are going to survive this. But you are here to talk about it.”
Later Friday morning, Ms. Peters and her mother stopped at Mr. Jacobs’ house to thank him. But he had fished till dawn and was still asleep, so Ms. Peters spoke to a neighbor. Later that morning, she stopped at Dick’s tackle shop in Oak Bluffs and bought the late night fisherman a gift certificate.
Mr. Jacobs said that, in the aftermath of the accident, he has continued to ask himself if he should have gotten in the water. Or what he could have done, or should have done, if the car had started out submerged. “I don’t know if I had gone to it if there’s anything I could have done,” he said.
He said he bears no ill will toward the drivers of the vehicles that passed him by without stopping. “They probably were tourists, and to see a wild man on a dark road waving to them, they had no idea what happened, so they went by.”
He added, “My lesson is, maybe I’ll get a cellphone.”