A 31-year-old New Jersey woman led Edgartown Police on a wild, high-speed chase Thursday destroying cemetery headstones, nearly hitting vehicles in the tourist-crowded village, and questioning a police officer’s “love of Jesus,” according to a police report.
Andrea Escoto-Rivera pleaded not guilty to a litany of motor vehicle charges at her arraignment Friday in Edgartown District Court. She was initially held on $25,000 cash bail, but that was reduced to $500 in court.
Police were called at 7:23 pm for a report of an erratic operator on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road driving at a high rate of speed in an “electric blue” Jeep Wrangler on the rain-slicked road.
“The vehicle approached my location, and the female operator, later identified as Andrea Escoto-Rivera, stopped next to me,” Officer Jake Sylvia wrote. “Escoto-Rivera rolled the passenger window down and immediately screamed at me, ‘Do you love Jesus Christ?’ I ordered Escoto-Rivera to pull the vehicle to the shoulder of the roadway so that I could speak with her further.”
According to the report, Escoto-Rivera questioned Sylvia several times on his love of Jesus during the stop on Upper Main Street. “I exited my cruiser and approached Escoto-Rivera’s vehicle,” Sylvia wrote. “I asked Escoto-Rivera for her license and registration, and she continued to yell at me, ‘Do you love Jesus Christ? You tell me now!’ Escoto-Rivera had a crazed look on her face and, in my opinion, was clearly experiencing some type of manic episode.”
Sylvia called for backup and EMS, according to the report. “Escoto-Rivera’s demeanor then rapidly escalated and she screamed at me, ‘You do not love Jesus, you (expletive),” Sylvia wrote.
According to the report, Escoto-Rivera drove on the shoulder and narrowly missed striking two vehicles. The officer estimated her speed at 20 mph over the posted 25 mph speed limit for the congested area.
“It was clear to me that if Escoto-Rivera were to continue operating this way, she would likely cause death or serious injury and had to be stopped immediately,” Sylvia wrote.
Escoto-Rivera made an abrupt turn onto Cooke Street and into a driveway at 87 Cooke St. where she was allegedly “operating her vehicle in circular patterns on the front lawn of the residence while spinning her tires, creating deep divots,” Sylvia wrote.
According to the report, Sylvia motioned her to stop and approached the vehicle. “The door was locked and I could see that Escoto-Rivera had a crazed look on her face as she shouted unintelligibly inside the vehicle.”
When a second cruiser arrived, Escoto-Rivera allegedly accelerated through some bushes and a fence and then into a cemetery with a third cruiser in pursuit.
“Escoto-Rivera followed the pathway straight in the cemetery but then made an abrupt right turn into a field of gravestones,” Sylvia wrote. “The vehicle struck a headstone, dragged it underneath the vehicle for approximately 50 feet causing deep gashes in the grass, then hit a large headstone, and the vehicle came to a stop. Escoto-Rivera was still making attempts to flee the area by revving the engine and trying to put the vehicle in reverse, however, the vehicle was hung up on the gravestones and rendered inoperable.”
Escoto-Rivera was taken into custody by Officer Alex Guest. She was evaluated at the scene by EMS.
“Escoto-Rivera was now calm at this time and officers sat her up to speak with her,” Sylvia wrote. “Escoto-Rivera said that she was on Island for vacation for the week and had rented a room. Escoto-Rivera stated she was scared due to something that happened in the residence, which caused her to ‘want to get away’.”
According to the report, Escoto-Rivera apologized several times for her dangerous driving. At Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, Officer Guest signed paperwork for an involuntary committal for Escoto-Rivera.
She was charged with failure to stop for a police officer, leaving the scene of property damage, reckless operation of a motor vehicle, marked lanes violation, speeding, three counts of vandalizing a gravestone, two counts of defacing property, and motor vehicle accident with property damage.
“I’m pleased with the outcome that no one was injured and we were able to get her to the hospital safely,” Police Chief Bruce McNamee told The Times. “The Edgartown officers did a great job in responding and protecting the other motorists.”
In court Friday, attorney Casey Dobel said her client objected to the arraignment being held virtually, and noted that it is important to Escoto-Rivera that the matter be addressed in person.
“She would like to be brought down here to have the ability to speak with me in person, to have the ability to be seen by you, your honor in person. She objects to this proceeding being held virtually,” Dobel said.
Judge Paul Pino overruled the objection.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Preble requested the $500 cash bail, but Dobel noted that Escoto-Rivera has no prior criminal record, and there is nothing in the police report that indicates her charges resulted from a willful incident.
“This was a mental health incident. This is not something where my client had any malicious intent,” Dobel said.
Dobel said Escoto-Rivera is a nanny back in New Jersey where she lives, and although she lives out of state, intends to cooperate with the process and work with the court to address the matter.
“I understand she is not local and lives out of state, but she is a very religious woman, she is a very moral woman. It is important to her to come back here and have these matters addressed and dealt with,” Dobel said, adding that the purpose of bail is to ensure someone’s appearance in court.
She requested that Escoto-Rivera be released on her own recognizance.
Pino set the bail at $500 cash because Escoto-Rivera lives in New Jersey.
Dobel said she spoke with Escoto-Rivera and one of her siblings, and noted that her client has no history of mental illness, and the incident could have been a result of a panic attack.
Based on the information presented, Pino said he will not order the emergency restraint and hospitalization of Escoto-Rivera, as she does not pose risk of serious harm by reason of mental illness (Massachusetts Chapter 123, Section 12a).
Dobel represented Escoto-Rivera for the arraignment only, and said she has not yet had the conversation with Escoto-Rivera as to whether she will retain her own attorney or request a court-appointed attorney.
A pretrial hearing was scheduled for Sept. 2. One of the bail conditions was not operating a motor vehicle during the pendency of the case.
Reporter Lucas Thors contributed to this story.