A police pursuit that began in Tisbury on Saturday at about 6:24 pm ended in a muddy field in Chilmark with an unidentified 17-year-old driver from Oak Bluffs taken to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital for a psychological evaluation, according to police.
The driver, who was behind the wheel of a Jeep Cherokee, is being cited for failure to stop for police, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, speeding, failure to stop for a stop sign, and wanton destruction of property over $250, according to Chilmark Chief Jonathan Klaren. Police declined to identify the teen.
The Jeep was isolated near Keith Farm. Cruisers from Chilmark and West Tisbury boxed it in to protect pedestrians outside the popular Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival. The Jeep driver attempted to elude police by driving over a stone wall into the Keith Farm pasture.
The incident left the Jeep and two police cruisers stuck in the mud, and at least one of those police vehicles caked in dirt.
Chilmark police heard over radio traffic that a Jeep Cherokee had failed to stop for Tisbury police at approximately 6:24 pm, according to an emailed account from Klaren.
West Tisbury police picked up pursuit along State Road.
Officer Nikolaj Wojtkielo opted to de-escalate the chase and follow slowly with lights turned off, according to West Tisbury Police Chief Daniel Rossi, who said given the erratic behavior of the vehicle, Wojtkielo determined there was “a very good likelihood there was going to be a crash.”
The decision paid off. The Jeep also slowed down, Rossi said. As the Jeep turned down North Road, Officer Wojtkielo continued to follow, Rossi said. At approximately 6:30 pm, the Jeep turned onto Tabor House Road and passed Chilmark Officer William Fielder in a marked cruiser.
The Jeep then turned onto Middle Road in the direction of Beetlebung Corner, where cars and pedestrians grew thick because of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival.
Positioned on Middle Road, Chilmark Officer Jesse Burton pulled his cruiser out in front of the Jeep and motored on slowly ahead of it.
“Officer Burton maneuvered his car so that the Jeep could not overtake/pass him, and with the WTPD cruiser behind the Jeep, they attempted to slow and thus bring the Jeep to a stop,” Klaren wrote. “While the three cars were traveling at estimated 20 mph, the Jeep (middle car) turned left off the Middle Road and over a stone wall and into the Keith’s Farm Field.”
The Jeep flattened a section of electric cow fence and traveled 200 yards into the field before it became trapped in mud, where the teen driver was evaluated by a Tri-Town Ambulance crew before being taken to the hospital, according to Klaren and Tri-Town Ambulance Chief Ben Retmier.
“I commend the officers’ strategy of attempting to bring this Jeep to a stop by boxing it in at slow speeds, as it was apparent the Jeep refused to stop in the previous two towns,” Chief Klaren wrote. “Officer Burton was aware that there [were] a few hundred people at the Chilmark Community Center for the M.V. Film Festival, and his strategy that ultimately brought this Jeep to a stop prevented any injuries and minimized damage to personal property.”
A widely photographed pastoral expanse between Middle and South Roads, Keith Farm is a signature Vineyard Open Land Foundation (VOLF) planned preserve. Viewed from Middle Road and from Beetlebung Farm on Sunday, ruts cut across yards of the farm’s pastureland.
“It’s an unfortunate desecration of an iconic Vineyard view,” VOLF chairman Eric Peters told The Times.
JWL Transport and Towing owner John Leite told The Times he used a front-end loader to extract the Jeep Cherokee and two cruisers because their tires had sunk in the wet ground.