Bilzerian changes plea in snow chase case

Lawyer says Times portrayed his client as an ‘ax murderer’.

Eliot Bilzerian, right, is sworn in remotely before Edgartown District Court Judge Benjamin Barnes. His attorney, Martin "Skip" Tomassian sits to the left. — screenshot

Eliot Bilzerian admitted to sufficient facts Friday morning in Edgartown District Court on charges stemming from a 2019 chase on snowy Vineyard roads across four towns. After waiving his right to a trial, Bilzerian was given a five-month continuance without a finding for failure to stop for police, and a five-month continuance without a finding for negligent operation of a motor vehicle.

Ahead of Judge Benjamin Barnes’ acceptance of the plea, Bilzerian’s attorney, Martin (“Skip”) Tomassian said The Times had dealt Bilzerian “enough” punishment: “I suggest, your honor, that Mr. Bilzerian has already been punished, not by the court but by the media. I don’t know why, but for some reason The Martha’s Vineyard Times published Mr. Bilzerian’s picture that I have in front of me, enlarged …”

Via his Zoom feed, Tomassian proceeded to hold up a photocopy of Bilzerian’s Dukes County Sheriff’s Office booking photograph, an image that was published in The Times Dec. 9, 2019

“They treated this as though he was an ax murderer,” Tomassian said. “I think he got more ink than Senator Kennedy did years ago. I believe he’s been punished enough.”

While police never accused Bilzerian of being an “ax murderer,” they did take his vehicular actions seriously. On a December night in 2019, Chilmark Police responded to a deerjacking call on North Road. This eventually led to a chase of a pickup truck driven by Bilzerian. 

“Chilmark officers terminated the pursuit due to icy roadway conditions, in addition to the safety of the public, due to the vehicle’s reckless operation,” a report states. Bilzerian’s pickup truck was seen by West Tisbury Police driving through West Tisbury “in a reckless manner.” West Tisbury Police refrained from pursuing for reasons of safety, as road conditions were dangerous. State Police picked up the chase and reported Bilzerian’s pickup reached 60 mph and passed “multiple vehicles,” forcing oncoming traffic to pull to the side of Barnes Road. 

Police later found Bilzerian’s pickup truck parked without him inside, with the keys in the ignition. Outside, by the truck, a rifle case with black powder rifle paraphernalia was allegedly discovered. Police searched snowy woods and yards for Bilzerian, but could not find him that night.

A warrant was issued for Bilzerian’s arrest by Edgartown District Court Clerk Magistrate Liza Williamson. “Due to the potential of serious risk to public safety, the continuous and reckless flight of the defendant in order to avoid capture by the police, and the inability of the police to arrest post-incident as the charges are misdemeanors, the request for a warrant is hereby allowed,” Williamson wrote in a court document. 

Joined by Oak Bluffs Police, State Police found Bilzerian at his Oak Bluffs residence, and arrested him. 

A .50-caliber black powder rifle was allegedly later discovered on the side of North Road. 

“There was damage to the rifle consistent with being thrown from a vehicle [and] skidding across the pavement,” the report states. State Police took custody of the rifle. It’s unclear if the firearm remains confiscated, or has been returned to its owner. No charges specific to the rifle appear to have been filed against Bilzerian.

Bilzerian was arraigned on Dec. 5, 2019, on multiple charges. He pleaded not guilty. On Jan. 17, Tomassian successfully reduced some of the charges

On Friday, the court waived a $250 head injury fee, and found Bilzerian not responsible for a related speeding charge. Bilzerian was assessed a $50 victim witness fee and a $50-per-month probation fee.