Car crashes into Martha's Vineyard Cooperative Bank
A Ford Explorer driven by Pamela Melrose of Oak Bluffs crashed into the Martha's Vineyard Cooperative Bank building on the corner near the parking lot facing State Road in Vineyard Haven at about 11:20 yesterday morning, then careened around the parking lot like a pinball.
The Explorer came to rest at the top of an embankment in the lot, trapping passenger Priscilla Sylvia, whose car door was jammed up against a towering blue spruce.
At the scene, Tisbury Police Chief John Cashin and Tisbury Police Detective Mark Santon said they would be investigating mechanical failure as the cause of the driver's unintentional acceleration. "Apparently, the driver was applying the brakes the whole time," Detective Santon said, which Ms. Sylvia confirmed in a phone call yesterday afternoon.
Ms. Sylvia, an Oak Bluffs resident, is well known to many on the Island as a Land Bank commissioner and a former teacher who serves on the Oak Bluffs School and Martha's Vineyard Regional High School committees.
Emergency personnel respond to a car accident in the parking lot at Martha's Vineyard Cooperative Bank, where a Ford Explorer came to rest on a berm. Photos by Susan Safford
"Pam was practically standing on the brake and it would not stop," Ms. Sylvia said. "She had absolutely no controls left in that car - she couldn't steer it, she couldn't brake it or anything. The airbags didn't deploy, either."
The two women had driven into the bank parking lot on Wednesday morning, where Ms. Sylvia was going to make a deposit for a friend. After Ms. Melrose pulled into a parking spot near the building but before she shut the car off, Ms. Sylvia said, "I had my seatbelt off, and before I could open the door, the car went crazy - it just went crazy."
The car struck the corner of the Martha's Vineyard Cooperative Bank building where bank president Richard Leonard's office is located, taking out the electric meter box, as well. Photo by Janet Hefler
The engine began revving up, she said, as though Ms. Melrose had put her foot on the gas pedal. "But whole time she's stamping on the brake and the engine is just racing," Ms. Sylvia recalled. "We shot forward, and she put it into reverse and went backwards, and then it went forward all by itself again. Thank God it went up the embankment - we finally could turn off the ignition. I mean, it all happened in about five seconds."
The two women were conscious, alert, and talking after the accident, according to Chief Cashin. Although Ms. Melrose was transported soon after to Martha's Vineyard Hospital, it took about 40 minutes for first responders from Tisbury and Oak Bluffs to remove Ms. Sylvia from the car because of the jammed door and the car's position against the tree. After Tisbury firefighters used a hydraulic extrication tool and trimmed several branches from the tree, ambulance personnel removed Ms. Sylvia and took her to the hospital.
Ms. Melrose, who had undergone open heart surgery a year ago, experienced neck and shoulder pain after the accident but otherwise is fine, Ms. Sylvia said. "Pam said afterwards, 'I'll never drive a Ford again,'" she added. The 1992 burgundy-colored Explorer is totaled. Ms. Melrose was wearing her seatbelt throughout the wild episode.
A curb at the top of a berm helped bring the car to a stop.
Ms. Sylvia, on the other hand, sustained a small "boxer's fracture" on the outside of her left hand and said she ached everywhere. It did not keep her from attending the Oak Bluffs Historical Committee meeting yesterday afternoon, however. "I'm fine," she insisted. Luckily, her right hand was not injured, she said, because "I'm the one who takes notes."
Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling happened to witness the accident as he drove past the bank, heading up State Road toward Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road. Shellfish officer David Searle and off-duty Tisbury firefighter Albert Robertson also witnessed the accident and rushed over to turn the car's engine off, Chief Schilling said.
The car struck the bank building where bank president Richard Leonard's office is located (and now visible through a large hole through from the outside). "Everything flew off the computer table in the corner and a piece of wood shot off behind me and past my head," Mr. Leonard said. Had the car hit the center of the wall, it might have come right through into his office, he added. Although shaken by the accident himself, he called Ms. Sylvia yesterday afternoon to see how she was doing and sent both her and Ms. Melrose flowers.
Chief Cashin and Chief Schilling both commented on how lucky it was that no pedestrians, cars, or other drivers were in the path of the out-of-control Explorer. "When is this bank's parking lot ever empty?" Chief Schilling marveled.
Ms. Sylvia said that just a moment before Ms. Melrose pulled into the parking space, a man with a German shepherd walked past on the sidewalk in front of them.
"The angels were looking out for us, I'm telling you," Ms. Sylvia said.