Island shaken by loss of two brothers

Maritime search for missing swimmer suspended because of weather.

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Updated 8/17

After scouring the waters of Sengekontacket Pond and Cow Bay in the vicinity of Big Bridge for over two days, the Massachusetts State Police and other agencies paused the search for 21-year-old Tavaughn Bulgin.

Bulgin, a Jamaican national, disappeared after he, his brother Tavaris Bulgin, and seven other people they worked with at Nomans in Oak Bluffs jumped from Big Bridge Sunday night. Tavaughn and Tavaris Bulgin reportedly struggled with the current under the bridge. The body of Tavaris Bulgin, 26, was recovered Monday morning. Tavaughn Bulgin has yet to be found. 

“Today the search is suspended due to wind and unfavorable seas,” Oak Bluffs Fire and EMS Chief Nelson Wirtz said Wednesday morning. 

State Police spokesman David Procopio confirmed Wednesday that no “dive ops” have taken place due to “ocean conditions.” However, he said a trooper was patrolling the shoreline on an ATV, and a State Police helicopter may head to the area. 

The parents of the two brothers arrived on the Vineyard Wednesday, according to local officials. 

Police were back in the area of Big Bridge on Tuesday to continue the search for Tavaughn Bulgin who went missing on Sunday night and is presumed dead after jumping off the bridge with his co-workers.

The Cape and Islands district attorney released the names on Tuesday after it was clear next of kin had been notified.

The two brothers are Jamaican nationals. Initially, four people were reported missing, but two of them were recovered uninjured, authorities told The Times on Monday. A co-worker told The Times that none of them were particularly strong swimmers, and the current played a factor in the drownings.

The Red Cross and Edgartown Police have spoken with the family of the two victims, Edgartown Fire Chief Alex Schaeffer told The Times. The parents of Tavaris and Tavaughn were taken to the hospital in Jamaica after hearing the news, according to the Gleaner, a Jamaican news outlet. 

Omar George, who described the victims’ father, the Rev. Keith Bulgin, as his best friend, wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday that he drove the brothers to the Island for their summer employment. He said in the post that he would usually meet with the two young men for a few days during the summer before and after their work started. George asked for people to pray for the Bulgins. 

“These two boys are like my blood sons. I loved them so much. I [knew] them from birth. They are good, godly, smart, jovial, crazy, full of life, and talented individuals,” George wrote. George said in the post that when the brothers called him for his birthday about four days ago, they had “promised to have a celebration for me when they came back in a few weeks.”

On Tuesday morning, Procopio confirmed in an email that the search resumed. “The State Police’s dive team and marine unit returned to the Island with “Massachusetts Environmental Police Officers and local officials.” Procopio said Environmental Police have deployed a sidescan sonar device, “which uses sound waves to detect objects or anomalies in the water column or on the ocean floor.” If the device “detects an anomaly,” members of the State Police’s underwater recovery unit can determine what was found. 

“The overall area they have searched/are searching is very large, encompassing both the inlet on the land side of the bridge and the ocean on the seaward side,” Procopio wrote.

At the scene on Tuesday, officers used ATVs from the parks and recreation department to ride up and down the beach searching. In the sky, there were both State Police and Coast Guard aircraft joining the search.

State Trooper Zachary Bolcome told The Times that the search would be dictated by tides and currents.

Ultimately, Tavaughn remained missing.

According to a press release the Cape & Island district attorney’s office released on Tuesday, the two victims “began to struggle in the current, and despite assistance from the others … did not return to shore.” The release said that so far, the investigation “does not reveal anything suspicious, and foul play is not suspected.”

Edgartown Deputy Fire Chief R. Andrew Kelly said it appears the group jumped into the water when the tides were shifting, which made it an especially strong current, and they weren’t aware of what to do. He added that it appeared like this wasn’t the first time they had done this, and it was perhaps a weekly thing for this group after finishing their shifts at Nomans in Oak Bluffs.

Nomans was closed both Monday and Tuesday, according to the restaurant’s website. The restaurant’s owner, Doug Abdelnour, has started a GoFundMe for the Bulgin family.

The search was suspended by the U.S. Coast Guard for a period on Monday. But even after they left, some law enforcement officials remained on a vessel searching for Tavaughn.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Briana Carter told The Times Monday that two men, ages 27 and 21, were recovered uninjured. According to Coast Guard Petty Officer Ryan Noel, the search began around 11:20 pm on Sunday night. 

Law enforcement sources told The Times that there is no suspicion of alcohol use by those who jumped off the bridge that night.

Video shared on Twitter showed a Coast Guard helicopter shining a light on the scene as the search was underway in the early morning hours Monday.

 

“At midnight, State Police were requested by Edgartown Police to assist in searching for two males who jumped into the water from the ‘Jaws Bridge’ on Martha’s Vineyard. The males did not surface after jumping,” David Procopio, spokesman for the Massachusetts State Police (MSP), said in an email Monday. “State Police mobilized marine and air assets to respond. Local police and firefighters searched for the men until approximately 3:30 am. The State Police Marine Unit transported State Police divers to the Island to resume the search [Monday] morning. The MSP Air Wing also has responded. Search operations by MSP and local units are ongoing.”

On Monday morning, there were multiple resources on the scene, with Massachusetts State Police divers searching near the bridge.

Tavaris was found around 6:24 am on Monday by State Police at Sengekontacket Pond, Searle said. Oak Bluffs Police Chief Jonathan Searle told The Times since a death occurred, the investigation will be taken over by the district attorney’s office. 

According to Searle, coworkers called in the 911 emergency. 

A Jamaican news outlet reported the two brothers are from Palmer’s Cross in the parish of Clarendon, Jamaica.

Late Monday morning, some of the warning tapes were taken down, and the local emergency responders packed up, leaving the search in the hands of State Police. 

“It’s disappointing,” Searle said about the search. He said they will be on guard for reports of a sighting, and the towns will continue monitoring the area.

Even as one boat with police aboard continued to search the water Monday afternoon, some folks could be seen jumping from the bridge, seemingly unaware of the tragedy.

Jaws Bridge is a popular tourist attraction on the Island, and many people jump off it during the summer, despite a sign warning people against it. Edgartown Fire Chief Alex Schaeffer said this tragedy may provide an opportunity to provide more safety in regard to the bridge in the future.

Abigail Rosen, Rich Saltzberg, George Brennan, and Natalie Aymond contributed to this story.

26 COMMENTS

  1. My heart breaks for the parents of these young men. My deepest condolences to all.

    I can’t help but wonder if there’s a greater responsibility that we have here to educate our summer workers about dangers that many of us know about regarding our waters.

    Yes, there are signs saying not to jump but the social normative is that many of us have been jumping for years including anyone who would enforce the rules not to jump.

    When I first heard that a search was on the way for jumpers after dark? I immediately jumped to false conclusions – tourists not knowing about tidal charts – drunk college frat kids -or a variety of possibilities that deflected any connection to responsibility for the young mens deaths.

    These were summer employed men from another country that came to help our workforce while enjoying the experiences we have here.

    One of those experiences IS jumping off that bridge.

    If you aren’t familiar with our tides and currents ? You’re at a serious disadvantage to the dangers in the water.

    The day before there were several shark sightings on the south shore; the tides are more extreme in a full moon cycle.

    I wonder if it should be required in employment training of summer help to educate our guest workers on hazards that we inherently understand. Last year it was a mo led death up island.

    I don’t see any of the tourism advertising that informs anyone that when they visit the island – mopeds are deadly; rip currents are stronger than they expect- tides change and where to read the charts – and to slow down for animals that live here.

    Seriously. Thousands if not millions of us jump off the bridge next to the sign that says not to.
    Maybe safety training is a better idea.
    Since my kids endure shooter drills in classrooms – employment training of island safety might be a good idea.

    • Janie, are you serious? An employment training program on island life? You do know Jamaica is an island with mopeds. Who is going to pay for this mandated training you want to require? The 32 dollar hamburger will go up to 40 dollars. Everyone who jumps off that bridge takes responsibility for their actions. It really stinks that these two brothers died in what was supposed to be harmless fun and enjoying life to its fullest. It’s a tragedy and reminder that life is not fair. It’s also a reminder to hug your loved ones. And there but for the grace of God or the great spaghetti monster go I. My gut aches for those parents.

      • When people die in plane crashes we make changes so that more people don’t die.
        It is why we have jump barriers on bridges.
        Does your gut ache enough to make changes?
        What if they were your kids?
        Tell me about that ache.

        • Bad analogy Al, we don’t stop flying when a plane crashes. Using your logic your answer would be to stop plane crashes would be to stop flying.

          My kids have and will continue to jump off the bridge as they will continue to fly. And I hope my grandchildren jump off the bridge. I used to jump off VH bridge.

          And I have experienced that same ache but life goes on. You never get over it but you don’t let it consume you.

          Al, to put it in simple terms for you, play stupid games, win stupid prizes. Life is full of calculated risks.

    • Janie, I think that could be a helpful idea. Most seasonal employees undergo training anyway, so it wouldn’t have to be a lengthy or separate program. Just tack on this info. It’s absolutely worth trying. Maybe hand out a list of tips and precautions and go over it at the start of the summer. I don’t know if any Island businesses do this already.

    • Island schools don’t practice a “shooter drill”, as you called it. They do practice a “lock down” drill once, maybe twice per year. There are a multitude of reasons why a lockdown drill might be necessary, not simply for an active shooter in the school. False labels are a form of misinformation and a spread of fear.

      • What other reason do they have a “lock down drill”, other than for a potential shooter? And excuse me, but these drills did not exist prior to the era of rampant school shootings.

        • Actually Carla these drills have been around pre columbine and date back to nuclear fallout drills where students would hide under their desks. Todays “lockdown drills” do include active shooter/intruder but they are also focused on external threats and risk mitigation. Think weather related incidents like tornadoes and flash floods. These drills also prepare for power outages and shelter in place scenarios. Given todays acceptance to the propensity of violence it’s totally understandable why people immediately think of school shootings when thinking of lock down drills.

  2. So very sad. My heart goes out to the parents for their losses.

    There should now be a sign stating that two deaths occurred due to jumping off the bridge at night. The rip current can be strong and you can’t see where you are jumping. Again so very sad for those two brothers who lost their lives in their prime.

  3. Truly tragic.
    At first, i thought they may have jumped into a shallow spot, but it seems they underestimated the current, which would have been running hard into the pond at that part of the tidal cycle.
    But back to the part about jumping into water that is too shallow. A few years ago, a young man was seriously injured when he went off the little bridge. It could very well happen that someone could jump off the Jaws bridge into shallow water.
    So before that tragedy occurs, let me offer a suggestion.
    How about putting a small “fence” on top of the railing on the ends of the bridge to prevent people from standing on and jumping off the railing where the water is shallow. It would really need to be only a few inches tall, and would delineate areas that are unsafe to jump in.– even at night.

  4. Yes , I agree that there should be a fence on the top of the railing.How many injuries and deaths is it going to take for the town to take responsibility for the safety of innocent people.

    • No, we don’t need a fence to mar the view. We need people smart enough to understand what, Don’t jump off the bridge means.

      • Carol…there are plenty of spots to enjoy the view from along that stretch of road. Two young people tragically died, people are mourning them. Let’s back off the judgmental tone.

      • Carol– perhaps you misunderstood my “fence” idea.
        Stainless steel — A 1/2 x 3/4 inch inch top railing with a 1/2 inch x 2 inch bottom railing that bolts into the existing 2×6 wooden railing. It would have 3 inch tall 1/2 inch x 1/2 inch “pickets” every 6 inches or so. Total height—4 inches.
        It would only go over areas where the water is shallow. It would be a physical obstacle for those that would not know the depth of the water under them. No “fencing” where the water is deep enough to safely jump.
        It’s just a deterrent.
        I know there was no alcohol involved in this incident– but think about the prospect of a young drunk person at night doing something stupid and hitting the rocks– that’s all this would prevent. Possibly . or for that matter a sober person during the day– recall the incident a few years ago where a young man was seriously injured at the little bridge. It’s cheap and can’t hurt.

        • Totally agree with your idea Don. And I like someone’s idea of having flotation devices there as well. The no jumping signs are a joke at this point. Why have them? There should also be a lifeguard there during the day. It’s the most popular spot for water activities

  5. Hola Vineyarders. I’m reading about this terrible news from Mexico. I’m sure most of you remember the horrible shocking bicycle accident on State Rd 10-12 years ago.
    My neighbors and I organized signs for the road that said “Dangerous road, walk your bike”. We put up at least a dozen or more up and down the road.
    Since I lived on that road I had first hand knowledge of what when on after the signs went up. I was floored by how many people who just did not give a damn and rode their bikes anyway. Even more upsetting was the majority of these people could barely ride a bike.
    I guess what I’m saying is people will do what they want, warning signs or not. It’s a shame.

  6. Why do they have a few signs saying no diving or jumping but nobody enforced it. Was that just to cover the town’s butt if anyone got hurt they need to shut it down so very sad god bless there parents ❤️

  7. No jumping off the bridge after dark, PERIOD. Foolhardy, dangerous and in this case tragic. My heart goes out to the families of these young men.

    Having been a bridge jumper off the old bridge (which was much easier, less scary and more fun to navigate) I know those currents can be a challenge even for the strongest swimmer.

    Don, I like your idea.

    This is terribly sad.

  8. As a memorial to these young men, life rings should be mounted at both sides or four corners of the bridge. This was done in the past but the life rings were unfortunately stolen. Let’s be better and not steal life saving equipment.

    • great idea Gary– a life ring on either side of the bridge would be easy to deploy. With today’s technology, they could be designed to light up when thrown in after dark, with an audible alarm and could have an air tag, so they could be located if stolen or set adrift.
      That may have saved these unfortunate people.

  9. Can the ‘powers that be’ at least stop folks from jumping off the bridge until the body of the missing is found. Please consider showing some sympathy for his loved ones and respect for his soul

  10. Barbara– I’m not sure what that would do except prevent a lot of people from enjoying a uniquely Vineyard thing.
    In 1993 during the fishing derby, 2 fathers and their 2 young sons lost their lives in a boating accident. The body of one of the father’s (Sonny) has never been found.
    The derby did not shut down, nor was it cancelled in subsequent years.
    You can be sure there was plenty of sympathy and respect for the loved one’s of that tragedy.
    Also, there was plenty of sympathy for the family of the young woman killed in a moped accident last year. Business at the place she rented the moped did not stop for a minute.
    Someone dies while swimming in our ocean nearly every year. It often takes time to recover the bodies. Would you want to shut down all beaches every time a tragedy happens at the beach?
    I think your sentiments are sincere and compassionate and I appreciate you taking the time to express them.
    I mean nothing in this comment to be taken as mean spirited or condescending.
    Respect

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