SUV plunges into Menemsha Channel

Three passengers escape serious injury.

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UPDATED July 29

A Land Rover SUV went careening into the water near the Coast Guard boathouse in Menemsha Tuesday evening, somersaulted as its nose hit the water, and landed on its roof, according to eyewitness accounts. 

All three occupants — the male driver and two women — were able to get themselves out of the car, and appeared to be shocked, but not seriously injured, according to those eyewitnesses. One passenger was taken to the hospital for evaluation.

A preliminary investigation released by the Chilmark Police Department found the driver of the SUV, Robert Drew of Andover, wanted to turn around when the incident occurred. “He turned to the left, facing the creek, in order to begin a three-point turn, and planned to back into the entrance area of the USCG Boathouse,” that report states. “Drew described the shift mechanism as a mechanical dial on the center console. Drew thought he turned the dial to the reverse position, and pressed the accelerator to begin backing up. As he pressed the accelerator, Drew stated the car began to roll forward, so he gave it more gas; that consequently [sent] the Land Rover off the pier into the water.”

The report went on to note everyone in the SUV escaped: “Drew was able to escape from the driver’s side window. The passenger in the front seat was able to escape by opening the door as the car went over. Lastly, Drew assisted the passenger … seated in the back seat out an open window. The passenger in the rear seat was transported to M.V. Hospital for evaluation.”

The other passengers were Drew’s wife and daughter. His wife, who did not provide her name, told The Times she was able to exit the SUV when the nose of it hit the edge of the channel, before it flipped over in slow motion. Her husband and daughter, however, went into the channel upside down with the SUV. She said to firefighters, as well as The Times, the rotary shift mechanism in the SUV appeared to malfunction ahead of the accident. 

Solon Oliver, 18, was headed back into Menemsha Channel when he saw the vehicle crash through a railing and hit the water.

“It went in nose first, and then flipped over,” he said. “It was kind of alarming.”

Nearby, J.B. Blau was talking with a friend, Kevin Oliver, when he heard the crash. “We heard a slam, and it sounded like a dumpster getting hit by a car, or something falling off the roof,” he said. “There was a car in the air, and it did like a somersault into the water.”

A good Samaritan dove into the water to help the passengers, Blau said. “There was a gentleman who jumped in to try to help, and that was awesome,” he said.

Meanwhile, Solon Oliver drove his boat over to the scene to see what assistance he could give.

“I was ready to jump in,” he said. “I had to make sure everything was OK.”

When he learned that everyone was out of the vehicle, he had one of the women grab the front of his boat, and motored her over to a dock, he said. The driver was holding onto the dock, and used the ladder at the rear of Oliver’s boat to get out of the water and onto the dock, Oliver said.
Police and emergency crews arrived shortly after the crash. Chilmark harbormaster Ryan Rossi marked the SUV with an illuminated buoy, and the vehicle was left submerged overnight. 

Wednesday morning, crews returned to extract the vehicle. Chilmark Fire Capt. Chris Smith and pro diver Joe Leonardo entered the channel in scuba gear and secured straps to the vehicle. The straps were connected to the bucket of a Caterpillar 316 wheeled excavator operated by John Keene of John Keene Excavation. Keene first turned the SUV back on its four wheels. Then, after a few adjustments to the straps and the removal of a piece of the drive-on dock railing, he lifted it from the channel bed onto land.

Rossi and Aquinnah harbormaster Brian (“Chip”) Vanderhoop monitored the operation, along with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Massachusetts Environmental Police, the Chilmark Fire and Police Departments, and the Aquinnah Police Department. Tri-Town Ambulance staged at the Home Port restaurant. 

Drew was cited by Chilmark Police for “failure to use care in stopping, backing, and turning,” a report states. 

George Brennan contributed to this report. Updated to include details from the police. -Ed.

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