Derby presents cellphone to fisherman who pulled driver from water

Derby president Ed Jerome presented Bob "Hawkeye" Jacobs with a prepaid cellphone in a brief ceremony attended by (left to right) Edgartown Police sergeant and derby committee member Tom Smith, Mr. Jerome, Mr. Jacobs, derby chairman Chuck Hodgkinson and State Police trooper Robert Branca, who responded to the accident Friday morning. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Bob “Hawkeye” Jacobs is a well-known Island fisherman with a ghost-like reputation for appearing at fishing spots late at night. Over the years, he has been a familiar name among the fishermen who compete in the annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, one of the oldest and most respected fishing tournaments in the country.

In a brief ceremony Tuesday, Derby leaders met Mr. Jacobs in front of the Derby weigh station headquarters on Edgartown harbor, shuttered until the fall, to honor him — not for his fishing skills, but for his character and quick actions when a young woman, driving from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown just before 1 am on Friday, drove her car off the road and into the water at Big Bridge (See related story).

Mr. Jacobs helped pull Ashley Peters of Edgartown from the water and then summoned help by flagging down Eric Bettencourt, an off-duty sheriff’s deputy who just happened to be driving by on his way home.

In an interview later that day, Mr. Jacobs, a retired computer programmer, told The Times that the emergency had taught him a lesson. “Maybe I’ll get a cellphone,” he said.

On Tuesday evening, derby president Ed Jerome handed Mr. Jacobs a prepaid cellphone that will take him well through the next fishing season as a small group that included derby chairman Chuck Hodgkinson, Edgartown Police Sergeant and derby member Tom Smith, derby treasurer Chris Scott and State Police trooper Robert Branca looked on.

“The next day when I woke up I was shaking all day long,” Mr. Jacobs said. He said, but for chance, it all might have ended tragically. “By pure luck a few things went the right way,” he said. “Thank the stars.”

Mr. Jerome said that although the competition does not begin until September, the derby is a year-round institution and it was important to recognize Mr. Jacobs now.

“We are really proud of Hawkeye: he’s been involved with the Derby for a very long time and is part of the Derby family,” Mr. Jerome told The Times. “He was in the right place at the right time. Fishing at night is part of the Vineyard and the Derby’s culture. And unlike some communities where a lonely figure on a beach, or in this case on a bridge, might be a cause for concern, on the Vineyard it is often a reassuring sight.”

Mr. Jerome said it is not insignificant that when Big Bridge was rebuilt the design included ample room for fishermen.

The fact that Hawkeye did what he needed to do to help reflected the best aspects of Island fishermen, Mr. Jerome said. “We are not recognizing him for a heroic act,” Mr. Jerome said, “but for a regular guy doing the right thing.”

Earlier Tuesday, Mr. Jacobs went to lunch with Ms. Peters and her mother, Melissa. “I really liked her and I liked her mother,” Mr. Jacobs said. “She’s a good kid.”

Mr. Jacobs, 64, soft-spoken and humble regarding his actions that evening, deflected any praise. He said he did what any other fisherman would have done and asked that the emphasis be placed on reminding young people to drive carefully.

That lesson was not lost on Ashley Peters.

So fortunate

An articulate young woman, Ms. Peters graduated last May from Emerson College with a degree in stage directing. This summer she is working at her uncle’s bike rental shop in Oak Bluffs. She said she wanted to direct some plays in Island venues, but now that she is without transportation she may alter those plans.

In a telephone conversation with The Times Tuesday, Ms. Peters said Mr. Jacobs was smart enough not to jump into the water and approach the car, an action that surely would have sent the car sliding into the channel sooner than it did.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met a sweeter, more kind person in my life,” Ms. Peters said. “I am just overcome by how humble he is.

“Not only am I thankful for him, but I am also thankful that the community has gone out of their way to show their appreciation for him and it just goes to show how lucky I am to live on an Island where so many people can be appreciative and selfless in that way.”

In the days following the accident, Ms. Peters, who doctors told to rest and recover, thanked the police officers and made an effort to locate Mr. Bettencourt so she could thank him personally.

Ms. Peters could not speak about the specifics of that night because she faces legal charges for operating under the influence of alcohol. Still, she said she would like other young people to learn from her experience.

“What I remember most vividly,” she said about the moments after the car ended up in Sengekontacket Pond, “is once I hit the water the car filled up with water so fast and I wasn’t even entirely submerged yet, the car was still partially on the rocks.”

Ms. Peters was able to get her seatbelt off, but she could not open the door. Fortunately the car windows operated manually.

“I climbed out of the window and hopped into the water and I was just so taken aback by how deep in I was,” she said. “It was up to my shoulders, and that’s when Bob reached out and grabbed my arm and helped me up onto the rocks.”

In a state of shock, Ms. Peters said she remembers nothing until she was in the ambulance and on her way to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. “I am just so fortunate that my car landed the way it did and it didn’t submerge entirely until just when I got out of the vehicle,” she said.

“The legal repercussions don’t lend themselves to being excited about spending the summer on the Vineyard,” she said. “But at the same time I have to be so appreciative that I have my life and I have my family to support me and the community is so strong.”

Asked what she would tell other young people enjoying the Vineyard this summer, Ms. Peters said, “They have to realize that they are not invincible and that there are repercussions to their actions.

“Taking a $20 cab from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown may seem expensive at the time, but it is a lot less expensive than the court fees you will be paying if you get caught drinking and driving.”