Four Island teens dodged a bullet last weekend, surviving a high-speed automobile accident in Edgartown. One youth faces charges of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol; one was airlifted to Boston, but all are recovering. The accident occurred at 1 a.m. on Saturday.
Edgartown police chief Paul Condlin said: "These kids were very fortunate to have survived this accident." When police and emergency medical technicians arrived, they found the automobile upside down amid brush off the side of the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road. Two of the youths were in the car; the other two had been thrown from the vehicle.
Paul Galligan, 17, of West Tisbury, the operator of his father's green 1992 Honda Accord, was arraigned in district court on Monday and charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol along with lesser charges. Police are not releasing the names of the other three, because they are juveniles, 15 and 16 years old.
According to police. Mr. Galligan was driving his father's 1992 green Honda Accord into Edgartown at speeds of at least 82 m.p.h. when the car crossed into the oncoming lane and then went back south into the woods, about a quarter mile west of the Bold Meadow development. Still at high speed, the vehicle careened off the road and broke through an 11-inch thick oak tree, finally coming to rest upside-down in the woods. Mr. Galligan and one other youth remained stuck inside the car until rescuers arrived.
Police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians from across the Island arrived at the scene within minutes of the reported accident.
"Officer William Oteri was on a cruiser patrol on the West Tisbury road in the area of Jernegan Pond," Chief Condlin said. "He saw a vehicle driving towards town. He caught the car on radar going 60 miles per hour in a 35 zone. He turned the cruiser around, chased and stopped the car. The operator of the car, a female, jumped out of the car and ran to the cruiser. She was screaming and crying, saying there had been an accident further up the road and that a car had flipped over and that someone had died."
"The officer activated the emergency response," the chief said. As part of the mutual aid call, ambulances from Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Tisbury responded. A helicopter was also called.
At the scene, officer Oteri found one youth walking the road in a daze, bleeding from the face. He found another male lying in the scrub oak, 10 feet from the car. He was breathing but was not responsive. That youth was later taken by helicopter to Massachusetts General Hospital for observation and was later released.
Two youths were extricated from the overturned car using special tools provided by the Edgartown fire rescue service.
The three youths were taken to Martha's Vineyard Hospital, treated and released.
Police chief Condlin said public safety officials at the scene were observed by a group of concerned youths. Some speculated that the youths were part of a group going from one party to another. Police found 17 bottles of beer at the scene. Police reported there were indications that the passengers had also been drinking. According to police, the youths were not wearing seat belts at the time of the crash.
After the accident, many young people assembled at the Martha's Vineyard Hospital emergency room and waited to hear the status of the injured youths.
The accident scene on Monday testified to the violence of the crash. Broken tree limbs were piled by the side of the road. Shattered car window panes lay in the woods, along with a crumpled hood. A young woman's shoe lay in the debris.
The smashed car, with scrapes and dents throughout, was hauled to a parking lot on Upper Main street.
"I am amazed and relieved that no one was killed that night," Chief Condlin said. "I only hope that experience will have a lasting effect on them and their friends who came upon the scene. They all saw a car overturned, kids inside and kids ejected from the vehicle. It had to be traumatic for them."
Coincidentally, Edgartown police officer David Rossi and his brother, West Tisbury police Sgt. Dan Rossi, coordinated with the health classes at the high school to speak about drug and alcohol impairment this week. Those classes ran Tuesday and Wednesday.
Regional high school principal Margaret (Peg) Regan said news of the accident was widely shared at school Monday morning. "I know at the physical education class they talked about it," said Mrs. Regan. "Had there been a fatality, there would have been a morgue-like culture in the school. The fact that there was no fatality almost made it seem like it was embarrassing."
Some of the teachers addressed the matter in a stern way, the principal said. She said school faculty members were deeply disturbed by the incident. Counseling was offered to the students.
"Far worse can happen if they don't use this as a lesson," she said.
Last night a special program was offered to parents and students at the school library conference room on the subject of drug and alcohol misuse. The program, Community Workshop on Adolescent Substance Abuse, was sponsored by the school PTSO and Community Services. Stephen Andrews, a specialist from Maine, gave the talk. Another session will take place tonight.
Mrs. Regan said Island educators are looking at a range of ways to raise the public consciousness for students in the regional and elementary schools.