Police this week continued their investigation into a traffic accident at the intersection of County and Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Roads last Tuesday that claimed the life of a 20-year-old Island woman and left two others seriously injured.
Oak Bluffs police are still waiting for a report from a state accident reconstruction team. Police have also subpoenaed hospital records and are waiting for the results of toxicology tests on the two drivers involved in the accident.
Police said Brandy Marie Gibson was traveling west on the Edgartown-Haven Road when her car struck a Humphreys bakery delivery van driven by Francellyo C. Dias. Mr. Dias was turning left toward Edgartown at the time.
Ms. Gibson was later pronounced dead at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. Both Mr. Dias, 25, of Vineyard Haven and his passenger, Lessa Keila, were flown to Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston. Mr. Dias was released from the hospital on Monday, according to a hospital spokesman. The same spokesman said there was no record of Ms. Keila being admitted to the hospital.
Police said Mr. Dias was unable to present a valid driver’s license at the scene and will likely be charged with operating a vehicle without a license. Police may also cite Humphreys for allowing an unlicensed operator to drive a company vehicle.
Police have yet to determine how fast either vehicle was traveling at the time of the accident, although it has been determined that no one involved in the accident was wearing a seat belt.
According to court records, Mr. Dias, a native of Brazil, was charged both in June of 2006 and in March of 2007 with operating a motor vehicle without a license. Both charges were dismissed after Mr. Dias paid a fine and performed community service.
News of the accident sparked a wave of negative backlash across the Island this week, most of it on Island newspaper Web sites. Many of the postings carried an anti-Brazilian sentiment. Most of the postings were carried by the Martha’s Vineyard Times, which publishes all its reader comments on its Web site. Many of the comments are unsigned.
The Gazette accepts reader feedbacks on its Web site and this week began selecting signed feedbacks for publication in the print edition. (The selected feedbacks will also appear on the Web site for subscribers).
Many Brazilians were disturbed at the negative reaction.
“Nobody knows who caused the accident, police haven’t said [yet]. They are calling all of us [Brazilians] criminals but we have done nothing,” said one woman who answered the telephone at a Brazilian church but asked not to be identified. “We don’t want to cause problems, so why should they call us names?”
“Everybody says they are scared to drive now . . . they think police are going to stop everyone [they think is] from Brazil and send them home. Some people were saying police had [set up] roadblocks,” said another Brazilian woman who also asked not to be identified.
Oak Bluffs police Lieut. Timothy Williamson said there was no truth to the rumors. He said in fact police had launched an outreach program to help Brazilians understand the driving rules in this country. He said the program helped cut down the number of arrests for driving without a license in Oak Bluffs from 124 in 2006 to 77 in 2007 — a reduction of 43 per cent. “We don’t target anyone. But we take [driving without a license] very seriously,” Lieutenant Williamson said.
Cape and Islands assistant district attorney Laura Marchard said the Edgartown district court processes between 20 and 25 cases each month of Brazilians charged with operating a motor vehicle without a license. She said most cases are dismissed provided the person pays $100 in court costs and performs eight hours community service.
Second offenses are usually settled if the person pays $100 in court costs and performs 16 hours community service.
The community service part of the penalty is unique to the Island, begun about three years ago.
The district attorney said a charge of driving without a license for someone who is not in this country legally is usually not cause for deportation. She said immigration officials usually only initiate deportation after violent crimes, felonies or drug charges.
Police said this week they understand many Brazilians have no means to obtain a license, but they also said they must enforce the law.
“We know some of these people have to drive to get to work, and we understand they are trying to make a living, but if someone is pulled over and they don’t have a license, we have no choice but to charge them. No exceptions,” Edgartown police chief Paul Condlin said. “That’s the reality of the situation.”
Lieutenant Williamson agreed. “[The police] understand the hardship, but people without a license should take public transportation or carpool or find some other way to get around,” he said.