‘This can’t continue the way it is’

Dukes County Commissioners address bridge’ tragedy.

Dukes County Commissioners emphasized the need for Massachusetts Department of Transportation collaboration when it comes to bridge safety. — MV Times

At their Wednesday afternoon meeting, Dukes County Commissioners addressed the recent tragedy that took place at Big Bridge early Monday morning that resulted in the deaths of two brothers. 

“The loss of Tavaughn and Tavaris Bulgin on Sunday night leaves me speechless,” said commissioner Peter Wharton; “there are simply no words.” 

Because the American Legion Memorial Bridge, colloquially “Big Bridge,” is not within the county’s jurisdiction, but rather the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, commissioners have their hands somewhat tied when it comes to enforcing restrictions and ensuring future safety. 

County manager Martina Thornton said that the county has tried “numerous times [to] encourage [MassDOT] to redesign the bridge to allow for safer use of it, [but] they have not taken us up on that request.” 

Thornton said the prior request was put forth by the county, and the towns of Edgartown and Oak Bluffs. 

“We need to acknowledge what happened,” Wharton said. He relayed a suggestion he received to inform bridgegoers of tidal flow charts, noting that depending on the tide, the waters can be particularly dangerous. “I don’t know if there is a sign big enough that we could [put up] to make people more alert and aware of the dangers that happen there,” he said. 

Because the Island has a wide array of summer visitors, including non–English speakers, Thornton noted that the county did put up infographics at the bridge, warning people of potential dangers. On how to move forward, she said, “Unfortunately, we singularly as a county cannot do the decisionmaking on that alone,” and would require constructive, multiagency collaborations.

It’s not just those who jump off the bridge who could be at risk, said commission chair Christine Todd, but also people standing on the lower rails, dangerously close to the road traffic. “It’s a very unsafe situation there … [and] unfortunately one that we don’t have much influence or control over.”

“I think it behooves us to reach out to MassDOT again, and state our position,” she said, “given the tragic events that just happened,”

Todd also suggested promptly engaging Edgartown and Oak Bluffs in a combined plea 

“to state our dissatisfaction with the lack of response [and] the lack of attention to this by the state … And the fact that we now have two deaths on our hands as a result.” 

Commissioner Tristan Israel echoed Wharton’s sentiment: “We are all just heartbroken at what’s happened.” Israel advocated for immediate action to be taken, in the wake of the deaths, before the issue gets glossed over and forgotten. 

Israel said, “While this is on [MassDOT’s] radar screen,” the county ought to invite them to a meeting with Edgartown and Oak Bluffs “to talk about the general safety issues” regarding the bridge and its use. “This can’t continue the way it is,” he said. Regarding MassDOT, Israel said, “Unfortunately it sometimes takes something like this to get their attention.” 

“The state, frankly, should be doing a lot more to ensure safety in the area,” said 

commissioner Keith Chatinover in agreement. Chatinover stated, “Not only is jumping off the bridge, in a lot of cases, unsafe; the entire area is unsafe” because of the volume of activity so close to the road. “The whole thing needs to be rethought out,” he said, stemming from the lane widths, and the bridge itself. 

Chatinover said that the commission should be “operating as a convening space” for the state and the involved towns in finding solutions. 

Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission chair Bob Rosenbaum suggested reaching out to Sen. Julian Cyr and state Rep. Dylan Fernandes “to put pressure on the Department of Transportation to get it moving.” 

Commissioners agreed to expeditiously engage MassDOT and get the ball rolling as soon as possible. “[This is] not something we should take lightly, at all,” Todd said, adding her “condolences to everyone affected by this … I know it’s been a major tragedy to the Island as a whole; my heart goes out to the family.”


Commission wants to meet with Malkin

Commissioners discussed the current and ongoing problems with the Steamship Authority, regarding recent operations and lack of transparency and communication with Martha’s Vineyard representative to the Steamship Authority Jim Malkin. 

“I think a lot is going on, a lot of people are upset,” said Chatinover, “and I think they have the right to be.” Among the scheduling struggles and operational failures, Chatinover mentioned the recent pay increase for SSA general manager Robert Davis, and said, “There’s a lot going on there that we should be asking Jim [Malkin] about.” 

Todd agreed. “It’s time for our rep to come before us and give us a report on how things are going there, [and] what’s happening.” 

Todd said although Malkin is slated to attend a DCC meeting in September, it may be time to hold a public hearing involving the Steamship Authority reps, in order for people to be able to air their ferry boat–related concerns. “The public at large would benefit from having a venue to be able to hear directly from Mr. Malkin,” she said, “and maybe the full board of the Steamship.” 

Rosenbaum said the idea of a public hearing is “very appropriate,” as Malkin “is supposed to be representing the Island on the [SSA] board … In his initial interview, [Malkin] said he was going to report regularly,” Rosenbaum said, adding, “I have not seen anything.”

Rosenbaum also suggested that in the event of a public hearing, it should be “widely advertised” in order for all concerns to be addressed, including “having [Malkin] explain how they gave Davis a 90 percent approval rating, yet even today there was another breakdown of one of the ferries, [causing] havoc … the reservation system is a disaster … it doesn’t make sense to me.” 

West Tisbury resident Doug Ruskin agreed. He said Islanders need to be able to hear reports from their SSA representative, and be able to have questions answered, as he “hears a lot of frustration too.” Ruskin said before a hearing with the entirety of the SSA board, it would be preferable to first communicate with Malkin. “Our representative has an obligation to meet just with the Island folks,” he said. 

Commissioner Don Leopold seconded that, noting that upon a request to meet with Malkin, it would “be wise for us to be really clear as to what our objectives are with having Jim come present to us, to have our orientation be to first seek to understand and then be understood.”

“We know how frustrated many people are,” Leopold said. He highlighted the fact Malkin is just one of many SSA board members and representatives, and it would be unfair to “put [him] on the carpet when we don’t really fully understand what’s going on; strikes me as really inappropriate for us.” 

“How do we set up a process which is not for show, but so that we really do work together with Jim to understand what’s going on and to see what positive steps we can take?” Leopold said to commissioners. 

Chatinover clarified: “We appointed Jim for a reason,” and that the goal is not to be “talking Jim Malkin to the mat,” but rather seek answers to the many questions Islanders are having regarding Steamship operations, he said. As the appointing body, Chatinover said, “we have the right to ask him those questions.” 

Malkin did not immediately respond to phone and email messages seeking comment.

In other business, commissioners gave an update on their ongoing search for a new county treasurer. According to Thornton, only one application has been submitted thus far. The full-time position, which touts a $100,000 annual salary plus benefits, has been vacant following the departure of former treasurer Ann Metcalf. 

Commissioners discussed how to fill the position, considering that as of now, qualified persons can only be candidates if they hold Island residency. Making the search even more complicated is that anybody hired would then have to be elected to the position following the end of Metcalf’s contract. 

Commissioners briefly mulled over the possibility of changing the position’s requirements to allow non-Islanders to apply, and perhaps changing the role to an appointed position rather than elected. 

Commissioners subsequently decided to amend the advertisement for the job, to clarify the specifics. 


  1. I’m confused is their a common theme of dying while jumping from 2nd Bridge? Why are we up in arms over an accident that had nothing to do with the design of the bridge? Why aren’t 7 year olds dying after jumping from it 100’s of times a summer? Why are a bunch of non islanders trying to change something that statistically is a non-issue? Maybe don’t jump off a bridge at night when you can’t swim? I don’t know. By this logic we should put speed bumps every 20 feet on the road considering there are far more vehicle deaths/injuries every year than accidents involving the bridge in the last 100…but no lets spend several million dollars redesigning the entire area.

    • Spot on. Do not use this to grind an axe for other issues. Terrible tragedy but it has ZERO correlation to bridge design. Maybe a sign that says ‘ jumping at night mandatory $250 fine’ and ‘tidal conditions can make swimming trecherous’..

      • I agree sir, let’s not spend money on changing things when we have a power that can fix it. And please don’t belittle the tragedy for a sounding board to remove speed bumps, people are going to drive how they drive regardless.

  2. Everyone would agree that the lost of life is sad and what we all do comes with risks. The roads of the island are more danger to people than this bridge. Jumping off the bridge has brought more joy tenfold in fact than it has sadness. We do not need to over react to this one accident. The island of no has for the most part closed Norton Point for the month of July because of a few birds and now talk of closing the bridge because of 1 tragic event. When was the last time someone died jumping off the bridge. Maybe a few more signs about the danger at night and a life ring attached to the bridge might help. Keep jumping from the bridge as is so my grand kids can jump like we all did.

    • The way to stop this kind of tragedy is to simply enforce existing law.
      Fine your grandkids $250 every time they jump off the bridge
      We are a country of laws.
      Back the Blue
      No matter what they do.

        • No sarcasm about enforcing existing law.
          These kids are dead, in part due lax law enforcement.
          A dozen kids with $250 fines might have convinced the two dead kids to not jump.
          The police need to act when they see a violation of law particularly public safety law.

  3. Malkin won’t be available until after Labor Day. He’s probably not reachable where he is at the moment. Tagging him with a torches-and-pitchfork meeting is neither fair nor will it be productive. Having all five members of the board and the CEO present at a bitch session, which has happened before at our high school, is a reasonable way to go. The support for Bob Davis, the CEO, comes from a majority of the board, especially from Nantucket. The two Islands have the most at stake by the dysfunction of the SSA, but the two governors are not allowed to speak to each other outside of a public meeting, which would be helpful in solving some of the obvious problems. Because of weighted voting the two Island governors are a quorum, and any private conversation between them would be a violation of the OML.

    • If they are meeting to discuss SSA business then it must be open to the public.
      How else would you want it to be?

  4. Thank God they found the second young man. Last week I was driving on Beach Rd and noticed 4 jet skis heading out of Sengy and under the bridge and I wondered, what’s to stop someone from jumping off the bridge onto an unseen jet ski….it all seems more and more dangerous to me.

    • Katie– if you are jumping off of a bridge, especially during the day, with dozens of other people around, everyone knows when a boat is coming.
      Now, if someone wants to deliberately jump onto a jet ski, you are correct, there is nothing to stop them.
      My guess as to why it seems “more and more dangerous” to you is that it is a natural part of aging to be more cautious as we age.
      It’s just as safe to jump off that bridge today as it was 50 years ago.
      If you can swim, I strongly recommend that you try it. It’s great, safe and healthy fun.

  5. How many times over how many years have I driven over this bridge and seen at least a dozen idiots jumping off. Why don’t the police enforce this??? Does it really take deaths to get something done?

    • Kathleen –I have been jumping off of that bridge for 35 years. I do not consider myself to be an idiot, nor do I consider the millions of people who have jumped off that bridge idiots. There is nothing unsafe about it.
      You should try it sometime— if you know how to swim.

  6. The bridge is fine. The signage is appropriate. The individuals who choose to jump off the bridge are responsible for their own behavior. Sadly, bad things may happen to good people who are not prepared for the consequences of their individualistic adventures on MV. This could happen anywhere else where there happens to be a bridge. It is important that the visitors and residents make good choices and respect the information posted at such locations. The bridge is a fine looking bridge.

  7. I 100% agree. Signage is fine and jumping off the bridge is fine. People jump off this bridge all the time in the daylight. I don’t see people jumping at night. I don’t know if there was other contributing factors. But I do know it’s harder to see the current and if it high or low tide.

    Here is another question to ponder? If someone goes swimming at night with no lifeguard does that mean we should close the beach indefinitely. I understand why the signs are there to shift the liability. But making a wrong choice shouldn’t be penalized for all.

    I do send my sincere condolences to the friends and family of the victims and from what I read they were great people and I am truly sorry for their loss..

  8. A local who lives on sengekontacket pond and I had arrived on scene and already searching in the water on a boat before 11:30pm cautiously after hearing a call the night of the incident in light to rescue. The big bridge is designed great, safe for travel on both ends (besides the jetty rocks) and enjoyable year round but safety additions would be great for the increased summer numbers like a couple of liferings as well as solar powered alert buttons to press for assistance to the area because a phone may not be a guaranteed option while seeking help.

  9. Once again an over reaction to a tragedy. I feel for the family of the 2 young men who passed.
    But common sense has to rise to the top. If you cannot swim, don’t go in the water especially at 11pm where it is dark and I can only assume they had no clue what the tides were doing. Were other factors present as well? We may never know but no one has any business jumping off any bridge at 11pm even if you know how to swim.
    Yes we are a land of laws but this has been going forth for decades and 1 incident you want to change everything. Is the “Law” really necessary?
    Stop the over analysis paralysis.
    Put a life saving ring on the bridge. Maybe 2. Attach a fine for jumping after dark.
    But do not ban a Summer right passage for a tragic incident that occurred at night and probably would not have happened in broad daylight.

  10. I don’t presume to know what happened, but prominently displaying this simple sign might help kids swim safely where ever they go.


      • Woody– you’re off a little on the quote “sign sign everywhere a sign”
        but no problem– we old geezers all know what you are talking about. A pretty good song– hit #3 on the charts–
        But putting up a sign is just that– it’s a sign. It often is just to cover someone’s liability, or a suggestion. The point is that there are really no safety issues with jumping off that bridge– the signs should be removed.

        • Do this don’t do that can’t you read the signs? Don, we have more in common then you think. Lol. I like the Tesla version myself.

          After dark mandatory fine, life rings and a call box are all great suggestions.

  11. I think that people are going way overboard with this. Yes 2 young men made a bad decision to dive at night and were unaware of the dangers of the currents. Again in honor of the 2 young men put up a plaque and ask to not jump or dive at night. Maybe explain why.
    But don’t take away the fun of this. Before this there was no injuries at this bridge.
    Little bridge is different due to depth etc.

  12. I will once again point out the obvious here. Forgive me.
    This bridge was first built in 1932. my guess is that people jumped off of it then. Not in the numbers that do it today of course, but the fact is they jumped off of it.
    When i arrived here in 1986, it was a popular spot. I personally have jumped off at least a thousand times. — ( 28 times a year)
    So let me make some wild estimates based on casual observations, as I have no statistics.
    Today, there were at least 3,000 jumps off of that bridge–I base that on one jumper every 5 seconds for 10 hours.
    If that happens on average 100 days a year, we are at 3 hundred thousand jumps per summer
    Over 90 years equals 27 million jumps without a single fatality.
    Of course, my numbers a skewed to make my point. But if anyone else wants to come up with different numbers, I welcome it.
    And I will point out that these tragic deaths had little to do with the actual bridge jumping…
    If they had dove off of the jetty’s on either side of the bridge, the outcome may very well have been the same.

    • Don,
      Agree but I was in MVH a few years ago with my son who was involved in a boating accident. While waiting around the ER I saw several people come in with injuries from jumping off the bridge. I asked the ER staff if this was normal and they said yes. I think the ER doc said has has treated over a hundred people who have gotten hurt from jumping. He said, back, leg, neck injuries from hitting the bottom and also from falling off the railing. I was shocked but like you I’m not going to stop jumping.

  13. I disagree that jumping off the bridge is as safe as it was 50 years ago. It’s a different bridge, and there are way more people. During the day it’s nowhere near the experience it was, even when my kids were young, 40 years ago. Now there are huge crowds & the new design has them a lot closer to the road. Also disagree that there have been no injuries! I personally have witnessed a few, very scary. The fact is that jumping off the bridge has become too normalized as a benign easy thing that anybody can do. It is not. You have to be a strong swimmer and be aware of the tide and the current. Just like with mopeds, we need to be more responsible in our messaging.

  14. Jumping from the bridge is not permitted, correct? The signs are there, of course, to indemnify the town, nothing more. Is part of the thrill of jumping when you know it’s against the ‘rules’? In the wake of this tragedy, it will be even more compelling to some to take the leap.

    Rafting the Youghiogeny River in Western PA is a very popular activity. All commercial adventure outfits, and all waivers of liability signed.
    People-rafters/ customers- die EVERY YEAR on this fun aquatic run. Army Corps actually regulates the flow. The rafting businesses on that river are doing just fine this year.

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