Swimmers and sunbathers leaving State Beach Monday afternoon were surprised to find parking tickets stuck under the wiper blades of their windshields, but for more than a few the surprise turned to outrage when they learned who had issued the tickets.
The name of the officer listed on the $10 tickets was S. Berlucchi, who checked off the boxes next to Edgartown and Oak Bluffs to indicate what town had issued the citations.
The only problem is that no police officer named S. Berlucchi works in either town.
The tickets were issued by Stephen Berlucchi, the Dukes County engineer, who last week was sworn in as a special deputy of the county sheriff's department. Prior to being named a special deputy, Mr. Berlucchi had no experience or formal training in police work or issuing tickets.
Mr. Berlucchi issued approximately 30 tickets Monday, most of them for the rarely - if ever - enforced violation of parking the wrong way along the Joseph E. Sylvia State Beach.
The practice of motorists parking vehicles pointing toward Edgartown on the stretch of road is common, because the only parking is along the shoulder of road that lies on the ocean side. Motorists traveling toward Edgartown often pull in head first instead of making a potentially dangerous - and illegal - U-turn against the flow of traffic.
Tickets for parking the wrong way are unheard of at State Beach, even during the busy summer months.
County manager E. Winn Davis on Wednesday said the idea to make Mr. Berlucchi a deputy so he could issue tickets grew out of a recent initiative to stop people from parking on the sand and damaging the dunes. The county first posted notices with the police and in newspapers in June in hopes of preventing people from parking on the sand, Mr. Davis said.
After the notices failed to do the job, Mr. Berlucchi suggested the county make him a special deputy sheriff so he could issue tickets when he commuted between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown during his regular work day, Mr. Davis said.
After the idea was discussed during an August county commission meeting, county officials agreed Mr. Berlucchi should be sworn in as a special officer.
Mr. Davis said the move had nothing to do with enforcing parking regulations or generating revenue for the county, but was seen as an important step to protect the fragile dunes.
"I think [Mr. Berlucchi], as well as a lot of other people, were frustrated by the noncompliance. You can drive by any day and see vehicles clearly parked on the sand and grass," Mr. Davis said.
But almost all the tickets issued Monday were for vehicles parked the wrong way, not for parking on the beach. Mr. Davis said that because Mr. Berlucchi is inexperienced as a traffic officer, he issued tickets for the wrong violation and improperly filled out the tickets.
Instead of marking the box for the county on the ticket, Mr. Berlucchi incorrectly checked off Oak Bluffs or Edgartown to denote the town in which the citation was given, Mr. Davis said.
Dukes County Superior Court Clerk Joseph E. Sollitto Jr., who also presides over parking ticket appeals, said this week that he had already voided two parking tickets after receiving a request from the Oak Bluffs police department.
In a letter to Mr. Sollitto, Oak Bluffs Lieut. Timothy Williamson noted the reason for the request: "The issuing officer was not a member of the town police department."
Mr. Sollitto said there is a state law that prohibits parking against the traffic flow, although he has never seen a ticket issued for the infraction on State Beach.
Edgartown police chief Paul Condlin said his department will invalidate any tickets issued for parking the wrong way at the beach, which spans Edgartown and Oak Bluffs.
Chief Condlin said he went to the beach Monday afternoon after town administrator Pamela Dolby told him she had received a call from someone questioning why tickets were being issued.
When the chief arrived, he found a ticket on a windshield that was not issued by an Edgartown officer. He then went out on the beach to find the owner of the vehicle, a woman from New Jersey, and apologized to her.
"I told her the ticket didn't come from [Edgartown]. And while I was talking, I just decided that I would take care of it, and told her she didn't have to worry about it," Chief Condlin said.
Mr. Condlin then returned to headquarters and instructed Sgt. Kenneth Johnson to go back and remove any tickets from vehicles cited for parking the wrong way. Mr. Johnson removed seven or eight tickets, the chief said.
"We've never enforced that, and we're not going to start now," he said.
Mr. Davis said the tickets will not be processed, and he encouraged those who have received them to mail them back to the court so they can be dismissed.
Mr. Berlucchi on Wednesday said he was sorry for the inconvenience to motorists who received tickets. When he stopped to issue tickets, his goal was to issue tickets only to cars parked on the sand. But he said as he was issuing tickets, a woman approached him and told him it was about time someone started issuing tickets to cars parking the wrong way.
Mr. Berlucchi said the conversation got him thinking, and he decided to start ticketing cars that had been parked facing Edgartown.
"I probably should have stopped and thought about it more. But the woman told me this story about how someone pulled out of a spot who was parked the wrong way, and how she had to swerve to avoid an accident, and I decided to start looking for cars parked in the wrong direction," Mr. Berlucchi said.
"I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to inconvenience anyone. I hope people understand this was for the good of the beaches," he added.
Mr. Berlucchi said he will continue to issue tickets to vehicles parked off the curb. He said he issued several such tickets on Tuesday.
Sheriff Michael McCormack said he felt partially responsible for the parking ticket boondoggle because he did not provide clear instructions to Mr. Berlucchi before he went out ticketing.
"It was probably a lack of communication because I didn't clearly articulate what the object was. I really don't think he did anything improper. I think his intent all along was the protection of barrier beach," Mr. McCormack said.
But one motorist who received a ticket Monday said Mr. Berlucchi's actions were anything but proper.
Bruce Doten, a Vineyard Haven resident who received a ticket, said Mr. Berlucchi should be punished for impersonating a police officer in order to generate money for the county.
Mr. Doten, who has already had his parking ticket voided, said he found the entire incident offensive.
"We already gouge people enough as it is, and now we have the county engineer going out to see how many tickets he can write. Those people were there trying to be joyful and peaceful and enjoy a day at the beach. They did nothing wrong," he said.