Authors Posts by Steve Myrick

Steve Myrick

Steve Myrick

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Leandro Miranda appeared in Edgartown District Court Friday. — File photo by Susan Safford

Edgartown police, acting on information provided by Oak Bluffs police, arrested Leandro Miranda Friday afternoon on a default warrant at a Millers Professionals Inc. jobsite on Clevelandtown Road in Edgartown, according to a press release.

The court issued a default warrant for his arrest after Mr. Miranda, 23, failed to appear in court Monday, August 11, for his scheduled arraignment in connection with his latest arrest Sunday, August 10 for operating a motor vehicle without a license. Mr. Miranda posted $600 cash bail Sunday night and was released from the Dukes County jail. On Monday, the court forfeited his $600.

Police have now arrested Mr. Miranda, most recently of Oak Bluffs, five times since March 2. In two of those arrests, he was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, and fleeing police in his vehicle at high speeds.

At a hearing in Edgartown District Court Friday, presiding justice H. Gregory Williams ordered Mr. Miranda held without bail.

“I’m going to be holding Mr. Miranda on the warrant until Monday, August 18,” Judge Williams said. A court officer interpreted for Mr. Miranda, a Brazilian national, who sat in handcuffs and leg shackles. “Probation has moved for detention. The Commonwealth will be moving to revoke bail, and requesting bail in the new case. We’ll see what happens at that time,” Judge Williams said.

At a July 10 hearing following Mr. Miranda’s third arrest on a charge of driving without a license, Judge Williams made it clear that if he got caught driving without a license again, the consequences would be severe. “If you even think of driving a car without a valid license, which you won’t get for a quite a while, you’re going to jail,” Judge Williams said at the earlier hearing.

As part of a plea agreement disposition of his first two cases at the July hearing, Judge Williams issued a six month suspended sentence, along with two years of probation. Mr. Miranda was free after posting $5,000 bail, which he may have to forfeit because he did not show up for his last court appearance.

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Leandro Miranda listened to a court interpreter during his appearance in Edgartown District Court on July 10. — Steve Myrick

Leandro Miranda living most recently in Oak Bluffs does not have a valid driver’s license. But that has not stopped him from driving or drinking or speeding, according to court records.

In the past five months, police have arrested Mr. Miranda, 23, a Brazilian national, four times for driving without a license. Two of those arrests resulted in charges of fleeing from police at high speeds, and operating under the influence of alcohol. Following his most recent arrest on Sunday, he posted bail and failed to appear at his scheduled Monday arraignment.

Island police are on the front lines of the cycle of arrest and re-arrest of criminals who put the community and police at risk.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” Lt. Tim Williamson of the Oak Bluffs Police Department said. “It comes down to how the district attorney is going to prosecute a case, and how a judge is going to sentence. It’s out of our hands at that point.”

Michael Trudeau, Cape and Islands first assistant district attorney, said that dealing with repeat offenders is a balancing act, and prosecutors work to ensure similar sentences for similar crimes.

“We have the public’s interest at heart in doing our job, to make sure there is a fair and just sentence that also keeps in mind our obligation to public safety,” Mr. Trudeau said in a conversation prior to Mr. Miranda’s latest arrest. “There are times when analysis of a particular case might make you wonder, but the overall picture is it’s still the best criminal justice system in the world.”

Chasing justice

Early in the morning on March 2, 2014, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown police attempted to stop Mr. Miranda after Oak Bluffs police officer Dustin Shaw spotted Mr. Miranda driving a 2005 Chrysler 300 on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road at over 80 miles per hour. He caught up to Mr. Miranda at Dodger’s Hole. Still attempting to flee police, Mr. Miranda backed up and rolled forward several times, striking a road sign, running over shrubs and other landscaping. Officer Shaw was able to take Mr. Miranda and a passenger into custody.

Edgartown police officer Nicholas Phelps wrote in his report. “Leandro was unsteady on his feet, and had difficulty maintaining his balance. His eyes were also bloodshot and glassy.”

Mr. Miranda refused to cooperate with police when they tried to administer field sobriety tests, and refused a sobriety test at the time he was booked into the Dukes County Jail.

He was charged with negligent operation of a motor vehicle, unlicensed operation of motor vehicle, marked lanes violation, speeding, failure to stop for police, and wanton destruction of property under $250. He was arraigned on March 3 in Edgartown District Court, and released after posting $100 bail.

In keeping with standard practice for anyone who answers that he or she is not a U.S. citizen, or is unable to provide a social security number, jail officials entered Mr. Miranda’s information into the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) database. There is no record that ICE took any action, and no record of any detainee order issued, which would have required authorities to hold Mr. Miranda for 48 hours.

On May 1, Mr. Miranda was back behind the wheel of the same vehicle, owned by Rogerio J. Almeida. Oak Bluffs Detective Jeffrey LaBell arrested him on a charge of operating a motor vehicle after a suspension for OUI. Mr. Almeida was cited for allowing an unlicensed person to drive his vehicle, and the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles suspended the vehicle’s registration. Mr. Miranda was released on $400 bail. At his arraignment on May 5, he was given a bail warning. He was warned by the court that if he was arrested on another offense, he could be held for up to 60 days without bail.

Arrested a third time

On July 4, at 1:30 pm, Oak Bluffs was packed with tourists, walking, biking, and driving on downtown streets. Detective LaBell, patrolling in a marked police cruiser with Officer Michael Cotrone, spotted Mr. Miranda driving the same Chrysler 300 on Dukes County Avenue. He activated his blue lights. Mr. Miranda failed to stop, and instead made a quick turn onto Masonic Avenue.

“I proceeded on to Masonic Ave. where I observed the Chrysler was completely in the oncoming lane of travel and over the double yellow line passing vehicles that were waiting in line for the Circuit Ave./Masonic Ave. stop sign,” Det. LaBell wrote in his report. After passing the line of cars, Mr. Miranda turned onto Circuit Avenue, and accelerated toward the downtown business district, still passing vehicles, as police pursued with sirens and blue lights activated.

Mr. Miranda stopped abruptly in a parking lot at 97 Circuit Avenue,  jumped out of the vehicle, and fled on foot into the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association campgrounds, where Officer Cotrone eventually caught up with him and tackled him.

Police seized two nips of alcohol from his pockets, and a part of a 12-pack of beer, still cold, in his vehicle. Again, he refused to cooperate with police who tried to administer field sobriety tests.

At his arraignment on July 7, the court revoked bail on the previous charges, and set bail at $5,000 for the latest charges.

Bailed out

Mr. Miranda was jailed until a pre-trial hearing on July 10, when he was brought to court in handcuffs and ankle shackles. During a lull in the court procedure, Mr. Miranda spoke in Portuguese, through a court interpreter. “Am I going to be free today,” he asked Edgartown District Court Presiding Justice H. Gregory Williams. “I don’t know, not yet,” Judge Williams replied.

The Cape & Island assistant district attorney struck a plea agreement with defense attorney Charles Morano on the charges from Mr. Miranda’s first two arrests. The agreement offered to Judge Williams included guilty pleas on the OUI charge and several motor vehicle violations, stiff fines, but no jail sentence. The probation department recommended fines, instead of the normal alcohol education program, because the department was concerned that a severe language barrier would prevent Mr. Miranda from completing the program that most first offenders are required to take.

Judge Williams refused to accept the plea. He suggested to the attorneys that he would be inclined to accept a plea that included a six-month sentence, suspended for two years of probation. Mr. Miranda agreed, and pleaded guilty to OUI, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, and failing to stop for police. He also agreed to pay fines and court costs of $825, and was ordered to pay restitution for the property damage he caused.

Judge Williams told Mr. Miranda through the court interpreter that if he violated the terms of his probation on the first two charges, he could be certain of serving time.

“If you even think of driving a car without a valid license, which you won’t get for a quite a while, you’re going to jail,” Judge Williams said.

Under the bail laws, the court could have held Mr. Miranda without bail on the previous charges. But once he agreed to dispose the previous cases through a plea agreement, he could no longer be held on the revoked bail. A man identified as Jose Nascimento posted $5,000 cash bail on the latest charges and Mr. Miranda walked out of the courthouse. The district attorney could have refused to agree to a plea, but Mr. Miranda would have had the option of pleading guilty and accepting the court’s sentence, and still walked out of court after posting bail.

Mr. Miranda and an interpreter returned to court on August 7 for a pre-trial hearing on the July 4th arrest and he was asked to return for another hearing on September 4.

And again

On Sunday, August 10 Oak Bluffs police Detective Jeff LaBell was off duty when he spotted Mr. Miranda behind the wheel of a 2003 Chevy Miller Construction work van owned by Elio Nunes, according to the police report. Detective LaBell contacted Officer Dustin Shaw, who spotted the van. “The van quickly accelerated as it approached and passed my cruiser,” Mr. Shaw wrote in his report, noting that the area of Winthrop Avenue is “a very thickly settled neighborhood with a public park and many homes.”

Officer Shaw stopped the van on Winthrop Avenue where Mr. Miranda lives. When he approached the van he saw the female passenger seated in the driver’s seat. Peering through the rear van window he saw “Miranda attempting to evade detection in the rear section of his van and frantically moving items around. At this point, given his furtive movements, suspicious actions, previous interactions with police and presence of tools in the construction van that could potentially be use as weapons, I drew my issued service firearm and ordered Miranda from the vehicle.”

Mr. Miranda was arrested for operating a motor vehicle after license suspension for OUI and speeding. He was booked at the Dukes County Jail and released that night after he posted $600 cash bail.

Mr. Miranda did not appear in court Monday for his scheduled arraignment. The court issued a default warrant for his arrest and forfeited his $600.

If Mr. Miranda fails to return for his scheduled court date on September 4 Mr. Nascimento will be out $5,000. As for the $825 in fines and court costs, that has yet to be paid, according to court officials.

Wheels of justice

Repeat offenders are a source of frustration for Lt. Williamson. He reacted sharply to Mr. Miranda’s fourth arrest.

“What’s it going to take, him killing someone?” Lt. Williamson said. “This guy has fled from the police, which certainly puts himself at risk, the police at risk, and the general public at risk.”

Mr. Trudeau is also frustrated with repeat offenders, but he stressed the importance of looking at the entire criminal justice system. “There are always frustrations in dealing with repeat offenders, and how best to handle that,” he said. “It’s a balancing test that we take into account, both in charging and determining the appropriate criminal arena for prosecution.”

In Mr. Miranda’s case, speaking prior to his latest arrest, Mr. Trudeau said the plea agreements and amount of bail sought by prosecutors was consistent with similar cases.

“Often times people wonder with bail amounts that are set and posted, they think of it as punishment, and it isn’t,” he said. “It’s to ensure the defendant’s next appearance in court. This individual appeared in court. The bail statute allowing us to revoke bail was used effectively. There are often times where a sentence is handed down that takes into account a number of factors. You have public safety, mental health issues, addiction issues. The court is asked to deal with a whole bundle of causes and potential problems. The district attorney, probation, courts, and defense attorneys, do a good job trying to keep all those in balance.”

Mr. Morano, who represented Mr. Miranda in the disposition of his first two cases, declined comment.

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Chilmark selectmen discussed Community Center renovations. — file photo by Michael Cummo

Chilmark selectmen will consider a recommendation to increase fees for the use of the Chilmark Community Center. If adopted, the fees could mean significant increases for some community organizations and groups that stage events in the wooden building just off South Road by Beetlebung Corner. While many agree that a fee increase is warranted, smaller organizations fear the the proposed increases will preclude them from using the building.

Selectmen appointed a study committee to look at the use of the Chilmark School and the community center (CCC) after determining that fees were not covering necessary repairs and maintenance. Planning is currently underway to repair the buckling floor of the community center, as well as repair deteriorating exterior doors.

Jim Malkin, chairman of the town’s personnel committee and former chairman of the finance committee, chaired the use of town owned facilities committee that included Andrew Goldman and Jane Slater. After five open meetings over a three-month period, the committee presented its report to selectmen on July 15.

Currently, fees for use of the CCC include $200 for rehearsal dinners and adult parties, $400 for weddings, and $50 for children’s parties. There is also a $200 refundable security and cleaning deposit for most events. Selectmen review applications, and have the option of waiving or reducing fees.

The most significant change recommended by the committee involved events that charge admission, such as the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival and the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society.

The committee recommended a fee structure of $50 and a $50 cleaning deposit for children’s parties; $200 for rehearsal dinners and adult parties with a $200 cleaning deposit; and a $400 fee and $200 cleaning deposit for weddings. Deposits are refundable in whole or in part depending on the condition of the building.

Sponsors of events with admission fees would pay a minimum fee of $500, plus 20 percent of admission fees.

An applicant for use of the center must be a town resident, or an event must be sponsored by a town resident who would be required to be present at the event and provide the damage deposit.

In its two-page report, the committee said that it had considered a variety of issues. These included: How to harmonize and coordinate use so that the limited resources in the town center are not overtaxed by simultaneous events; how to assure that the use of the town resources benefits town residents and taxpayers; how to assure that fees for usage are sufficient to assure adequate compensation for proper maintenance and wear and tear; how to set fees that reflect the commercial or non-commercial utilization of the space; and how to assure that practices of space users are consistent with Chilmark values.

“We contacted all groups who had used the facilities over the past two years, examined all agreements and statements,” Mr. Malkin said in an email to The Times. “We looked into the issues of maintenance, wear and tear, liability, scheduling, as well as water and septic. We looked at the existent fee structure and history. We spent much time discussing the character and needs of the various user groups, some individuals, some small not for profits, some larger groups, all of them important members of the community.”

Event organizers react

Thomas Bena of Chilmark, founder and executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, stages well-attended events at the CCC. He said his organization has pitched in to improve the community center by buying a new screen, seats, and a ventilation system.

“We’re not against paying a flat rate,” Mr. Bena said. “We just believe paying a percentage of ticket sales and donations is onerous and not appropriate. We’re not looking for a free ride, but we are excited to keep using that venue at an affordable rate. I’m hopeful the selectmen are going to do something that takes into account all the nonprofits that do great things do in the community center.”

Cathy Walthers of West Tisbury helps organize events for Slow Food Martha’s Vineyard, a local chapter of the national organization that advocates for local foods and farmers. The group has hosted events at the community center often, usually at a rate of $50.

“It’s a venue we really like and enjoy,” Ms. Walthers said. “Most of our events are free or very low cost. We try to make them community events, and we want as many people to come as possible.”

Ms. Walthers said that a $500 fee would not be affordable for the small nonprofit organization. “We definitely would not be able to [afford that],” she said. “I can understand that they might want to go up, if they need additional fees. I thought a more modest increase would be more appropriate.”

In a letter to Chilmark selectmen, she suggested that an increase in the range of $75 to $125 would be appropriate for nonprofit organizations like Slow Food Martha’s Vineyard.

The committee also suggested ending the practice of some organizations which charge extra for preferred seating or parking. “The town of Chilmark believes its facilities would be available to all citizens and attendees on an equal basis,” the committee wrote in its report. “There are to be no differential charging practices for use of town sites, including parking facilities, with the exception of admission discounts for memberships.”

Selectmen took no action on the committee’s recommendations at their July 15 meeting, nor did they address the proposal at their August 5 meeting, according to meeting minutes.

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Juvenile probation officer Shawn Schofield, shown here in a 2012 photo. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

To law enforcement officials and others who work with Island kids, the recent reassignment of juvenile probation officer Shawn Schofield is a significant loss for Martha’s Vineyard and hinders the effort to intervene with troubled kids who might be inclined to commit crime. Before his new assignment began in June, Mr. Schofield spent most of his work week on the Island.

Mr. Schofield, an Edgartown resident, is one of six juvenile probation officers assigned to handle cases in a district made up of 30 towns on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket.

Mr. Schofield is now on the Island about five days out of each month, according to Coria Holland, communications director for the Massachusetts Commissioner of Probation. An assistant chief probation officer is assigned to the Island to handle court sessions.

“The work shifts of Juvenile Probation Officers in Barnstable County were changed based on the operational needs of the court and to ensure the equitable distribution of cases per officer,” Ms. Holland wrote in a statement emailed to The Times. “The six Barnstable Juvenile Court Probation Officers supervise or oversee juvenile cases in a jurisdiction that includes approximately 30 towns in Barnstable County, a portion of Plymouth County, and the Islands.”

According to the Massachusetts Probation Service, the role of a juvenile probation officer is to supervise children under the age of 18 who are involved in delinquent behavior, as well as monitor the welfare of children who come before Juvenile Court as subjects of parental abuse and neglect.

Ms. Holland said currently there are 26 juvenile cases assigned on Martha’s Vineyard. By comparison, she said there are currently 147 cases in Falmouth, where Mr. Schofield now spends the bulk of his work time. There are 654 open cases in the entire district. She said earlier published reports that stated that Mr. Schofield spends two days per month on the Island are inaccurate.

Reached by telephone, Mr. Schofield declined comment on the reassignment.

Island base

West Tisbury Police Lt. Matt Mincone has a unique perspective. He deals often with kids who are at a crossroads, about to make decisions that could determine much of their future. Head coach of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School boys hockey team, he takes an active role in advising the athletes on and off the ice. He considers Mr. Schofield an extremely valuable resource.

“I haven’t had a lot of players that were on probation,” Lt. Mincone said. “But if there’s something going on in the school, he’ll let me know. I can call him and say ‘hey, this guy’s at an intersection, and maybe he’s going to take a wrong turn.’”

Lt. Mincone said much of Mr. Schofield’s role is preventative. He focuses on intervening before a problem gets to the level of police and court action.

“You don’t see him in the newspaper every day, because some kid made a good decision,” Lt. Mincone said. “I’ve called at weird times; he’ll take a phone call whenever. I don’t think it will be beneficial for anybody, including the kids that know he is available. Kids make decisions every day.”

Loss felt

Theresa Manning, coalition coordinator for the Martha’s Vineyard Youth Task Force, said her organization is already feeling the loss.  “We’ve had meetings, focus groups, activities where we’ve tried to have him included and he’s not available,” she said. “He’s invaluable. Having a person who is local, who knows the kids, who knows the community was a tremendous resource.”

Mr. Schofield could often identify trends that helped the Youth Task Force set priorities and direct resources, Ms. Manning said. “When we hear kids are starting to use prescription drugs, or involved in breaking and entering to get drugs, we can go to him and he knows,” she said. “That’s helpful…more than helpful.”

Dukes County Sheriff Michael McCormack called on state senator Dan Wolf and state representative Tim Madden to address funding for the probation division that includes parts of Plymouth and Barnstable counties, as well as Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. While the chief probation officer in that division sets staff schedules, Sheriff McCormack questions whether the state is providing adequate resources.

“There are nine courts in that particular jurisdiction,” Sheriff McCormack said. “There are only six juvenile probation officers in that division. My issue is not with the chief probation officer; my problem is with the legislature not funding the positions that used to be there.”

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Judge Richard Chin listened to arguments at the hearing on July 27. — File photo by Steve Myrick

Attorneys for the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission and the Dukes County Commission presented oral arguments in Dukes County Superior Court Tuesday in connection with the latest lawsuit sparked by a long-running dispute over control of the county-owned Martha’s Vineyard Airport and its operations.

In a 13-page civil complaint filed May 5, airport commission lawyers from the Cambridge law firm of Anderson & Kreiger asked the court to prohibit county officials from seeking to “unlawfully interfere with, and obstruct the functioning,” of the Airport Commission. The seven members of the airport commission are appointed by the elected members of the seven-member county commission.

The complaint is based on two ongoing disputes that are only the latest eruptions in the lengthy history of county efforts to exercise control over the county-owned airport. Over the objections of airport officials, county treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders has refused to pay airport invoices approved by the airport commission and she has publicly released invoice details the airport considers confidential. And on April 23, the county commissioners recognized county manager Martina Thornton as an ex-officio member of the Airport Commission.

Airport lawyers asked the judge to issue injunctions to prohibit the county commission from naming the county manager an ex-officio member; prohibit the manager from sitting on the airport commission; prohibit the county treasurer from refusing to pay airport invoices; and prohibit the treasurer from releasing confidential information she had obtained between the airport commission and its attorneys.

Airport commission attorney David Mackey (standing) shares a document with county commission attorney Robert Troy in Dukes County Superior Court.
Airport commission attorney David Mackey (standing) shares a document with county commission attorney Robert Troy in Dukes County Superior Court.

In its answer to the lawsuit, filed May 30, the county commission made a series of counterclaims, including a request for the court to declare that the airport is under the jurisdiction of Dukes County, as a subdivision and department of the county, according to Massachusetts law. The county commission also asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order prohibiting the airport commission from submitting invoices without proper documentation. The county commission asked the court to dismiss the airport commission’s complaint, and award the county commission costs to defend itself, with interest.

In a hearing before Associate Justice Richard Chin in Dukes County Superior Court on July 29, attorney David Mackey of Anderson & Kreiger was first to make his case for the injunctions and declaratory judgement.

“This is much more urgent than it was when we brought this case,” Mr. Mackey told the court. “The county’s position has become more extreme. The county commission is attempting to take control of the airport.”

Mr. Mackey said Chapter 90 of the Massachusetts General Laws give the airport commission sole authority for custody, care, and management of the county-owned airport. He said the grant assurances signed by the county commission and the county manager with each round of state and federal funding make it clear that the county commission is prohibited from depriving or diminishing the powers of the airport commission. He also argued that a 2006 court ruling known as the Weibrecht decision reaffirmed the airport commission’s role as a body independent of county government with sole responsibility for the airport’s financial affairs.

“There is some considerable urgency about clearing up this issue about who is running the show,” Mr. Mackey said. He cited language from the law, the grant assurances, and the Weibrecht decision in support of the airport commission’s claim that each overrules the state law and county charter, when there is a conflict.

Judge Chin questioned the airport commission attorney about his requests for immediate injunctions.

“What is the urgency,” Judge Chin asked. “After reading his (the county commission attorney’s) submissions, are you going to turn the keys of the airport over to him?”

Mr. Mackey also argued that an immediate injunction was necessary to prevent the county treasurer from releasing invoices and other documents which could compromise the airport commission’s right to keep communications with its attorneys confidential.

Judge Chin also questioned whether an injunction was warranted on that issue.

“Part of the problem is the lawyers,” Judge Chin said. “Why are they just handing over privileged communication? The attorneys bear some responsibility. It doesn’t sound like you need a court order to prevent these communications. I don’t want this court used as a tool by which information is kept from people. I’m not going to interject myself in this controversy. that’s not the role of this court.”

Attorney Robert Troy of the Sandwich law firm Troy Wall Associates represented the county commission at the hearing. He characterized the disagreement between the two commissions as a political dispute. He said no injunction is warranted to prevent the county manager from sitting as an ex-officio member of the airport commission, because the provision is included in state law. He said “one person sitting at the table who has no vote, for an airport that is owned by Dukes County,” is not an attempt to diminish the airport commission’s authority.

“The real issues, that are petty issues, are due to improper practices of the airport commission,” Mr. Troy told the court. “This is about a very petty and illegal practice. The airport commission has been approving invoices that have no detail.”

As an example, he offered an invoice from a law firm in Colorado that he said the airport commission had retained.

“It says 3.4 hours at $525 per hour,” he said. “What was the work done? T-R-D, that’s all it says. The airport commission should have been communicating with the treasurer and not coming to court.”

Judge Chin noted that all the invoices were eventually paid.

“It seems to me there is no controversy before me about the bills,” Judge Chin said. “There are procedures in place to pay the bills. It sounds like the matter has been resolved. What would I rule on?”

All the parties in the lawsuit were present in the courtroom Tuesday, listening intently to the hearing. Also present was Tracy Klay, chief counsel for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Aeronautical Division. He said the issues in the case are important to state regulators, no matter what the decision.

Judge Chin told the attorneys he will take the matters under advisement and issue a written ruling.

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The Edgartown Yacht Club’s annual ‘Round the Island Race drew 64 competitors this past weekend. — Michael Berwind

We are beating upwind, against the formidable current running along East Beach off Chappaquiddick at the eastern end of Martha’s Vineyard. The horizon is full of sails, with crews all trying to decipher the ever-changing factors of wind, tide, shoals, sail choice, course, opponents, and race tactics. Aboard Wild Horses, a breathtaking 76-foot W-Class sloop flying what seems like an acre of sail, there is a spirited discussion about whether we should stay offshore, where there is more wind, or alter course toward the beach, where the adverse current might be weaker. We are sailing around Martha’s Vineyard, and we have about 49 miles to go.

2014-07_rti002The Edgartown Yacht Club’s annual ‘Round the Island Race drew 64 competitors this past weekend. In 2013, 51 boats finished the race. With the addition of big boat buoy racing two years ago, Edgartown Race Weekend is quickly becoming a go-to event for top east coast sailors.

The regatta is a favorite of Donald Tofias, top evangelist for the return of 1930s era classic big boat racing, developer of W-Class yachts, and the Wild Horses helmsman for today’s race.

“I’ve been coming to this race since I was in high school,” he told a Times reporter invited along for the race.

A chorus of accents rings across the deck. There are crew members who hail from Finland, Australia, and South Africa, mixing with an assortment of New England dialects. We are on a reach now, angling closer to the south shore. Wild Horses, if not galloping, is at least slipping through modest waves at a quick canter. Noman’s Land appears on the horizon.

We tick off familiar south shore beaches from an offshore perspective: Long Point in West Tisbury; Quansoo, Lucy Vincent, Squibnocket in Chilmark. The crew and guests hang over the rail, feet dangling just above the waves, fulfilling the mindless but necessary role of “rail meat.” The flatter the boat, the more efficient the hull through the water.

Around the bluffs on Squibnocket Point, we take aim at the Gay Head Cliffs, on a broad reach now, hugging the shore. The breeze is picking up. The perspective is striking. The whole splendid expanse of glacial deposit stretches across the horizon.

2014-07_rti003Around Gay Head, we are running before the wind now. Just getting the enormous spinnaker sail from the hold up on deck is a complicated operation. Setting the spinnaker is an intricate nautical dance with disastrous consequences for a small mistake. With a lot of muscle and little experience it is hauled up and fills on cue. Three wild red horses with green eyes gallop across the sail.

Trimming the spinnaker is an intricate operation, with a trimmer handling a spinnaker sheet from a forward position on the deck, the helmsman reacting to every tiny puff of wind, and grinders flailing away at the winches. Two athletic but unsuspecting waiters, recruited before the race for the job of grinding winches, do their best. In the sailing trade, muscle-bound winch grinders are known as gorillas. It’s a hard job, but the waiters perform admirably.

The trimmer calls a series of commands from the deck to keep the big sail on trim.

“Pressure.” (Translation: a little puff coming.)

“I need heat.” (Steer into the wind to fill the sail.)

“Very soft.” (Entering a dead spot in the wind.)

“I’ve got nothing on the kite.” (The sail is completely off trim.)

Wild Horses is at a full gallop now, topping nine knots over the bottom, against a building current. We slip inside of Middle Ground, gybing from shoal to beach and back. We have a narrow target to emerge between the shoal and the rocks off West Chop without our 12-foot keel bumping the bottom. Green can (shoal) to port, can 23 (rocks) to starboard. Whew.

Now a sprint back to the start/finish line off Cape Poge, Edgartown. After nearly eight hours of sailing, the final leg seems to zip by in seconds. The race committee boat greets us with a shrill whistle at the moment our bowsprit crosses the line marking the elapsed time as 8:14:45. A few boats ahead, many behind with hours to go.

A magnificent day on the water.

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Spinnaker up, jib sail down aboard Wild Horses, a 76 foot W Class wooden boat competing in the 'Round the Island Race. — Photo by Steve Myrick

Updated 5:55 pm Sunday, July 27, 2014

Takeshi Okura skippered his IRC 52 Sled to a first place finish in the Edgartown Yacht Club ‘Round the Island Race Saturday, completing the 52 mile course in 5:49:22. Jim Swartz, a seasonal resident of Edgartown racing for the home club, finished just a shade under 3 minutes behind, to take second place honors in Class 1.

Trimming the spinnaker aboard Wild Horses, with Stephen Besse if Vineyard Haven making good time up Vineyard Sound in his J/108 Apres.
Trimming the spinnaker aboard Wild Horses, with Stephen Besse of Vineyard Haven making good time up Vineyard Sound in his J/108 Apres.

A total of 64 boats completed the circumnavigation, filling the overcast skies with colorful spinnaker sails. The day began in light air, and a long slog to windward to reach the “hooter” buoy south of Chappaquiddick. The breeze picked up throughout the day. By the time the fleet turned around Gay Head and headed up Vineyard Sound, the wind topped 16 knots.

Among the top local finishers was Paul Stafford of the Edgartown Yacht Club, who was first in the double-handed class, finishing the course in 9:48:00 aboard his Alerion Express 38 Inik. Sandy Vietor, in his Alerion Express 33 Orpheus, was third in the double-handed class for the home club, finishing in 10:26:39.

Stephen Besse, sailing for the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club and the Holmes Hole Sailing Association, finished an impressive second in Class 3 in an elapsed time of 8:21:50.

Racing got underway Thursday in the three day regatta, with the Big Boat Buoy Races just outside Edgartown Harbor. Thirty competitors, expecting wet and wild conditions according to weather forecasts, instead found a mild northeast breeze that built to about 12 knots through the day. Two races were completed and a third was about to start when the IRC 52 Hooligan snagged a racing buoy and set it adrift. The race committee decided to call it a day.

Mr. Swartz took full advantage of his home course edge, topping the IRC 52 class Vesper after the first day of racing.

Friday the race committee set a windward-leeward course off Cape Pogue as light winds shifted to the north, and 32 boats, including eight IRC 52’s made it to the starting line. Winds were light, about 12 knots for the first race, and falling to 8 knots for the later races. The fleet completed three heats before heading back to the Edgartown Yacht Club for the awards ceremony.

Vesper bears down on the line with another win in the Big Boat Buoy Racing series.
Vesper bears down on the line with another win in the Big Boat Buoy Racing series.

Again Friday, Vesper dominated the IRC 52 class, finishing best in combined scoring for the two days with three wins and two seconds in five races.

Among other local sailors faring well in the combined scoring for Big Boat Buoy Racing were Harald Findlay from the Edgartown Yacht Club, who skippered Arrow to a second place finish in Class 4 for double handed racers. Mr. Vietor, in Orpheus was third.

Mr. Besse Besse was the top local finisher in a tough PHRF Class 2, finishing fifth.

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State plans to reconstruct a portion of Beach Road in Vineyard Haven bypass zoning obstacles, critics say.

Beach Road. — Photo by Michael Cummo

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT) is planning a complete overhaul of a congested section of an important Martha’s Vineyard transportation artery over the next several years. MassDOT plans to add sidewalks and bike lanes to a section of Beach Road in Vineyard Haven, from the Wind’s Up watersports shop to Five Corners.

One plan under consideration would squeeze sidewalks, bike lanes, and vehicle travel lanes into a 40 foot wide section of Beach Road.
One plan under consideration would squeeze sidewalks, bike lanes, and vehicle travel lanes into a 40 foot wide section of Beach Road.

While any improvement is welcome, local officials and several property owners said that without significant changes in existing town zoning regulations, the town could be left with a brand-new roadway, but the same limited access to the waterfront, dilapidated structures and vacant lots, for years to come. One question raised is whether zoning bylaws now prevent the type of waterfront development they were intended to encourage.

The $1 million MassDOT road project is in a preliminary design phase. It is expected to receive federal funding in 2017.

Local town and Island officials are working with MassDOT on a plan to transform what is now a jumbled collection of sidewalks, shoulders, utility infrastructure, and a bike path that ends abruptly, into a smooth passageway for motorists, bicyclists and walkers.

The project faces legal and design obstacles, mostly triggered by the narrow roadway.

The width of the state’s right of way is only 40 feet at its narrowest point, where the roadway is flanked by the Packer Company’s concrete retaining wall on one side, and the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard buildings on the other side. Squeezing utilities, sidewalks, bike lanes, and vehicle travel lanes into that space will require variances from required state roadway standards. Alternatively, MassDOT could negotiate with dozens of landowners for easements in order to acquire enough space to meet the design standards.

Tisbury town meeting voters have authorized the town to pursue land rights for the project.

Zoned in

The waterfront zoning district stretches around Vineyard Haven Harbor and along the western shore of Lagoon Pond.
The waterfront zoning district stretches around Vineyard Haven Harbor and along the western shore of Lagoon Pond.

The stretch of Beach Road under consideration includes a mix of retail and construction businesses, along with office space. These include Hinckley lumber and Ace Hardware, West Marine, Tisbury Marketplace, Granite City Electric Supply and Vineyard Scripts pharmacy.

There are three major marine facilities: Gannon and Benjamin boatyard, Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard and the R.M. Packer Company, Inc. Owner Ralph Packer owns the Shell gas station, in addition to marine shipping operations and fuel storage on large shoreline parcels on both sides of Beach Road.

At annual town meeting in 1996, Tisbury voters approved new zoning bylaws that created a Waterfront and Commercial District. The boundaries of the two districts are complicated, but in general the waterfront district encompasses the land 100 feet back from Vineyard Haven Harbor, and 100 feet back from Lagoon Pond. The thin zoning district stretches from the Steamship Authority terminal to the drawbridge, and back to Maciel Marine on Lagoon Pond.

The new bylaws stipulated that any development within the district must be marine or harbor related. The bylaw specifically mentions aquaculture facilities, commercial fishing and fish processing, boatyards, facilities for tugboats and other vessels involved in port operations, and marine terminals. It also allows a wildlife refuge or park that promotes public enjoyment of the harbor.

Though the waterfront zoning was intended to encourage marine uses, it was also meant to preserve the working waterfront. There was fear at the time of the zoning changes, that developers would buy out marine businesses, and use the land for other kinds of development.

“The purpose of the zoning was largely to protect the existing business that were on the shore, and prevent them from being driven out,” Henry Stephenson, co-chairman of the Tisbury planning board, told The Times.

In nearly two decades since the zoning changes took effect, not a single marine based development of any kind has been built, and some point directly to the waterfront zoning district as the reason.

“It doesn’t achieve the goal of having better access to the water,” Mr. Stephenson said. He advocates a big picture approach. “You need a much broader look at the land uses along the shore to see how those pieces fit together,” Mr. Stephenson said. “When you get to Five Corners, what do you do? If you’re building Beach Road straight down to Five Corners, you should be looking at a link to the ferry while you’re at it. There is an overlay of issues that have to be addressed.”

Piecemeal plans

Planning board co-chairman Daniel Seidman says he is frustrated with the zoning regulations that govern development on Beach Road.

“In the past, things have been done piecemeal,” Mr. Seidman said. “It’s been more reactive than proactive. It’s nice to say there is a road and there are bike paths, but if it doesn’t help the town in general, we’re just doing piecemeal work.”

The planning board is about to embark on a “visioning” process. The process will take the form of facilitated public workshops, hearings, and efforts to raise awareness about planning issues.

Mr. Seidman said that unless the public is engaged from the start, it will be difficult to determine what people want Tisbury to look like, and how to plan a path to get there. He cited Beach Road as an example.

“There’s no town buy-in for what you see there,” Mr. Seidman said. “That’s why nothing has been done. If there’s no town buy-in to the solution, it will simply accumulate dust.”

It appears that is exactly what happened to the last plan the town created, in January 2006.

A 21-page document titled “Downtown and the Waterfront Planning Alternatives,” listed eight specific proposals to “reinforce the town center, open up access to the harbor, relieve traffic congestion, improve the economy and restore a more comfortable village atmosphere.”

The proposals include creating a harborwalk, reorganizing vehicle access in and out of the Steamship Authority terminal, and establishing a pedestrian system linking downtown to the waterfront.

The only recommendations implemented, however, were to move the fire station out of downtown, and reconfigure the town-owned parking lot between Stop & Shop and the police station, a plan that has been the target of much criticism.

A lot in play

Ernie Boch Jr., a seasonal resident of Edgartown and owner of a group of successful auto dealerships, is starting with a blank slate. Owner of an undeveloped lot on Beach Road near Five Corners, he said the waterfront zoning regulations are the reason the prime waterfront property has sat vacant for more than a decade.

“Boch Park,” as it was known, was the subject of a protracted legal battle between the town of Tisbury and Mr. Boch’s father, who purchased the property in 1987, when he created a valet parking lot on the property.

A long derelict shop, known as the Entwistle building, sits on one corner of the lot. It is condemned and due to be demolished. A large part of the property lies in the commercial district, and could be developed into retail, office space, or housing. But some of the lot lies in the waterfront district and is restricted to marine use under current zoning.

“I would love to develop it into something nice and cool and useful,” Mr. Boch said in a phone interview with The Times on Tuesday. “It’s a beautiful little harbor. The idea that you have to use it for marine use limits what you can do. It needs something to bring it into the 21st century. What are you going to do, add another dock?”

Mr. Boch, who has earned a reputation as a generous philanthropist, said the restrictive zoning puts the town at risk for a lawsuit, though he stressed he has no intention of taking any legal action. “It’s going to happen, it will happen,” he said. “Somebody will sue them and wind up building something that nobody likes. If they continue with these policies, that’s what is going to happen. I would never do that, but somebody will.”

He called on the town to take the lead in drawing interest from developers on his property, and others along Beach Road.

“If they truly want to develop that, they should ask for plans, they should be proactive, they should go on offense, not defense,” Mr. Boch said.

Power play

Sam Dunn, an architect and builder who developed Tisbury Marketplace, is alarmed at the lack of overall planning for Beach Road. He says the zoning ordinance that limits development to marine use is a well intentioned 20 year test that failed.

“You can declare the harbor is going to be a working harbor, you can’t just will it to happen,” Mr. Dunn said. “It has to be changed. That doesn’t mean you have to abandon the idea of boatyards. I think there should be some zoning that mixes in some other uses that would be compatible.”

The MassDOT process of negotiating land rights with dozens of property owners seems daunting to Mr. Dunn and others involved in the project. “You’ve got to have a very thick skin, a lot of time, and a lot of money,” Mr. Dunn said.

He said there are alternatives, that include extending sidewalks only from Five Corners to the Shell gas station, which would avoid the bottleneck to the east. He said the project should include a plan to bury utility lines in an underground conduit.

“Just throw the money at putting the power lines underground, instead of this incredibly cumbersome plan to get property from many different property owners,” Mr. Dunn said.

Ralph Packer, who owns several parcels along Beach Road, also advocates putting utilities underground. “If the electrical collar is put underground, we would do whatever is necessary to facilitate an easement,” he said. He said that he had submitted the offer in writing to Tisbury selectmen and the town’s department of public works.

Mr. Packer was among the group of planners and property owners who worked on the zoning ordinance two decades ago.

“We’re not interested in seeing motels and hotels along the beach,” he said. “We’re probably one of the last working harbors. Nantucket is completely a recreational harbor. The south side of the Cape is all recreational. Not everybody is happy, but I think we all try to live within what it was created for. Once in a while you might like to do something different, but I do not think the waterside district is a hindrance.”

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Vesper, an IRC 52 owned by Edgartown seasonal resident Jim Swartz, leads rival Sled, during Edgartown race weekend last year. — Photo by Michael Berwind

The Edgartown Yacht Club race weekend looks more competitive than ever this year, with at least seven top racing teams bringing boats in the 50-foot range for the three-day regatta.

A series of buoy races just off Edgartown Harbor is scheduled for Thursday and Friday, July 24 and 25.

The annual ‘Round the Island race is scheduled for Saturday, July 26.

Four IRC 52’s plan to mix it up on the water, including Vesper, owned and campaigned by Jim Swartz, a member of the home Edgartown Yacht Club and a seasonal resident of Edgartown. Vesper won its class in both buoy racing and the ‘Round the Island race last year. Other IRC 52’s competing are Sled, Interlodge, and Hooligan, all well known at top East Coast regattas.

Also scheduled to compete are Privateer, a Cookson 50; Rima2, a Reichel/Pugh 55; and Irie 2, a Kerr 55.

The weather forecast should throw challenges at the racers, with showers and thunderstorms forecast for Thursday, but clear conditions with moderate winds for Friday and Saturday.

The best viewing spots for the ‘Round the Island race Saturday are on the north side of the Island. The big boats should be a sight to behold from Gay Head, West Chop, and East Chop. The race beings off Edgartown Harbor, and the boats circumnavigate Martha’s Vineyard in a clockwise direction.

Hal Findlay, a seasonal resident of Edgartown, will be on the line for the ‘Round the Island Race with his 32-foot Aphrodite 101 named Arrow.

“Our typical Saturday afternoon is to sail out of Edgartown Harbor and beat or run back,” Mr. Findlay told race organizers. “We would never think of sailing 56 miles around the Island, so the ‘Round-the-Island Race is an opportunity to spread our wings a little.”

The big high-tech racing machines are not the only attraction for race weekend, however. The regatta includes divisions for all sizes of boats in IRC, PHRF, Double-Handed, Classic and Cruising divisions, and it always attracts sailors of all competitive levels.

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Matthew Tucci was arrested Tuesday after after a drug task force investigation.

For the second time this year, members of the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force have arrested Matthew P. Tucci on charges that include dealing heroin. The latest arrest of Mr. Tucci, a convicted sex offender and drug dealer, was Tuesday on Seaview Avenue Extension in Oak Bluffs.

Matthew Tucci.
Matthew Tucci.

Drug task force officers that included Edgartown Detective Sgt. Chris Dolby were watching as Mr. Tucci walked toward the Island Queen ferry. “I started jogging towards Tucci and observed Det. Sgt. Dolby call Tucci’s name and take control of this right wrist,” wrote Oak Bluffs police Det. Jeff LaBell, lead investigator, in his police report. “I observed Tucci was attempting to swallow something and was gagging as he was doing so. Tucci continued to gag and attempted to swallow an object in his mouth, which officers believed to be drugs. I continuously told Tucci he was under arrest and to put his hands behind his back. He refused and was attempting to pull his left arm under his body. After a brief struggle, I was able to get his left wrist into a handcuff, followed by his right wrist.”

Mr. Tucci did eventually swallow the object in his mouth according to the police report. Police later recovered a backpack they believed belongs to Mr. Tucci. Inside police found 11 individually wrapped bags of a tan powder they believe was heroin. Police arrested Mr. Tucci on a subsequent offense of possession of heroin with intent to distribute, failure to register as a sex offender, and resisting arrest. In 2002, Mr. Tucci was convicted of raping a 15-year-old girl on Martha’s Vineyard, and ordered to register as a level 3 sex offender. He served a five-year prison term for that crime. He lists his address as Boylston, but police said he lives on the Island for extended periods of time, which would require him to notify police of his whereabouts, under the sex offender law. On March 19, police arrested Mr. Tucci in Oak Bluffs, and charged him with dealing heroin. On March 6, Mr. Tucci walked out of the Dukes County House of Correction. A little more than one year earlier, on January 23, 2013, Edgartown District Court Presiding Justice H. Gregory Williamsrevoked bail for Mr. Tucci following his arraignment on charges of dealing heroin and failing to register as a level 3 sex offender. At the time, Mr. Tucci was also free on bail from Worcester District Court, where he also faced heroin dealing charges. Mr. Tucci was sentenced to 2.5 years in the house of correction, 18 months committed. The Worcester charge netted him a one year sentence.

An earlier online version of this story incorrectly reported Mr. Tucci was arrested as he stepped off the Island Queen. He was arrested as he walked toward the ferry landing. Also, the rank of Mr. LaBell was incorrectly reported as officer. He is a detective on the Oak Bluffs police department.