Disaster was narrowly averted in Menemsha Saturday morning when a 2001 VW Golf hatchback, with a dog inside, that was parked on the side of North Road opposite the Home Port suddenly began rolling down the hill in the direction of the Menemsha Galley restaurant, an area normally congested with vehicles and pedestrians.
The driverless VW Golf struck a glancing blow to a young woman visitor who was walking with her mother and grandmother, narrowly missed a parked car, and then rolled over a stone revetment and into the water at the edge of the channel. The current can be quite strong, but fortunately it was low tide, and the car remained where it stopped, hood down in the water.
Chilmark Police Detective Sean Slavin and officer Andrew Downes were in the Chilmark Police station when they received the call.
Once they arrived, Det. Slavin tended to the young woman while Officer Downes removed Sancho, a chocolate Labrador retriever, from the car, no worse for the eventful ride.
Det. Slavin said the three women were walking three abreast. The young woman was knocked up on the hood of the car and rolled off. She was transported to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, he said, bruised, but she did not appear to be seriously hurt.
“It was amazing only one person got clipped,” Det. Slavin said.
It was just before 11 am, and the customary crowds of people ordering ice cream and sandwiches had not begun to congregate in front of the popular Galley takeout windows.
Bradley Lamson, 51, a visitor from Whitefish, Mont., had borrowed the car from his host, Bucky Burrows of West Tisbury. Mr. Lamson told police he parked the car and then he and his wife walked over to the drive-on dock. They returned to the car to check on their dog, then walked over to the public restrooms and returned.
“When they came back, the car was gone,” Det. Slavin said.
Mr. Lamson walked down the hill. “He asked me what happened to his car, and I informed him it was in the ocean,” Det. Slavin said.
Mr. Lamson was relieved to hear that his dog was fine and the young woman had sustained only minor injuries. “He was concerned about that,” Mr. Slavin said.
A JWL transport tow truck arrived and managed to retrieve the VW Golf.
Meanwhile, the cause of the roll away car is something of a mystery.
Mr. Lamson said he left the car’s automatic transmission in park and the keys in the vehicle. The dog was behind a grate.
Aquinnah harbormaster Brian “Chip” Vanderhoop, who arrived quickly in his boat and made certain the vehicle was secure, told Det. Slavin the vehicle “was in drive or neutral, but definitely not in park.”
Det. Slavin said it is odd that the vehicle remained stationary for as long as it did without rolling, but he has no clear answer why it rolled forward.
Bucky Burrows was selling his specialty lemonade at the West Tisbury Farmer’s Market with about 30 people in line when he received a call from his friend, but cell reception was bad and he could not quite get the full story.
Late Saturday, Mr. Burrows told The Times that the important point is that everyone is safe. “There could’ve been 30 people there waiting for ice cream,” he said.
Mr. Burrows, a well-known charter captain, said his friend, a fellow fisherman, feel terrible. “He’s pretty upset … he borrows somebody’s car, and it ends up in Menemsha Creek.”