Driver in July 4th crash faces two counts of vehicular homicide

The Jeep Wrangler was broadsided by a 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan after it attempted to make a U-turn. — File photo by Steve Myrick

Updated Wednesday, Nov. 21

The driver of a Jeep involved in a fatal two-car accident that devastated two families and shattered the festive mood of the Island on July 4th is scheduled to be arraigned Friday, November 30, in Edgartown District Court on charges stemming from an investigation into the tragic events of a day that began as a family outing.

Thomas C. Jones of Dummer, New Hampshire, will be charged with two counts of motor vehicle homicide by negligence and operating to endanger in connection with the accident that claimed the life of his son and a young woman.

Mr. Jones was the driver a 2012 Jeep Wrangler that was broadsided by a 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan operated by Benjamin T. Johnson, 19, of Cambridge on Barnes Road near the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Business Park, at about 2 pm on Wednesday, July 4.

Mr. Jones’s wife, Margaret Jones, 51, was seated in the front passenger seat. His son, Seth Jones, 26, and his son’s girlfriend, Heather LaFlamme, 21, of Berlin, New Hampshire, were rear seat passengers and not wearing seatbelts, according to the police report.

Ms. LaFlamme, an honors college student, died July 7 at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Seth Jones, who survived tours in Iraq and Afghanistan while on active duty with the Marines, died July 17 in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Massachusetts State Police from the Oak Bluffs Barracks, the State Police Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Section, and the Cape and Islands District Attorney’s Office investigated the accident.

Following the accident, State Police issued a non-criminal citation to Mr. Johnson for speeding. The accident reconstruction team estimated Mr. Johnson was traveling 68 miles per hour.

Although speed contributed to the accident, State Police trooper David Parent said that based on accident analysis and witness statements, “It is my opinion that the cause of this collision was operator error, by the operator of the Jeep, Mr. Thomas Jones.”

A probable cause hearing before a clerk magistrate was held on October 26 in Edgartown District Court at which time probable cause was found to proceed with a criminal complaint.

Vehicular homicide is a misdemeanor when it is based on negligence as opposed to when alcohol or drugs plays a role. A conviction carries a loss of license of up to 15 years and could include incarceration.

State Police determined that the Jeep — a model that has its steering wheel on the right side for rural mail delivery — was traveling northbound on Barnes Road when it pulled onto the right shoulder of the road.

“The Jeep then began to turn left, beginning an apparent U-turn. At that time, it was broadsided by the front of the Tiguan, which was also traveling northbound on Barnes Road. The collision caused the Jeep to roll over and the Tiguan to veer off the left side of the road.”

The accident occurred just north of the entrance to the Mobil Gas Station at the entrance to the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Business Park just about the time parade-goers were making their way to Edgartown. Most of that section of roadway, also known as Airport Road, is flat and straight and has a posted speed limit of 45 miles per hour.

“When Mr. Thomas pulled into the roadway without looking he operated his vehicle in a way so that the lives and safety of the public might be endangered,” Trooper parent wrote in his report. “This maneuver set the crash in motion which was ultimately responsible for the death of Heather LaFlamme and Seth Jones.”

Lawyer Charles W. Goddard of Salem represents Mr. Thomas. “This was a terribly tragic accident, but not a homicide,” Mr. Goddard told The Times in a telephone conversation Tuesday. “It was a motor vehicle accident.”

The Jones family are longtime visitors to the Island. Thomas Jones met his wife, Margaret, the daughter of Frank Vieara of Edgartown, on Martha’s Vineyard, where his family had vacationed when he was young. Their son Seth was born on the Island.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the clerk magistrate found probable cause to seek charges for failure to yield when turning.