Four weeks after her younger sister was killed in a moped accident in Oak Bluffs, Christina Dunnet Davis is vowing to join any campaign that will rid the Vineyard of mopeds.
"Now that we have buried Kate and we're trying to reassess our lives, our family is going to pursue whatever we can to either close the businesses or to enact laws that will have some effect on them," she said this week in a telephone interview with the Gazette.
"Martha's Vineyard will be seeing my family up there again," added Mrs. Davis, who is 32 and lives in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C.
In the same weeks that it has taken the family of Kate Dunnet Miller to muster such a statement, the landscape around mopeds has felt even more tremors.
On Monday, an apparent act of road rage by the driver of a late model Toyota Corolla in Edgartown sent a moped rider crashing on Edgartown-West Tisbury Road near Oyter Pond Road. According to witnesses, police said, a gray Toyota "passed two mopeds and then pulled right back in front of them, and the rider of the moped slammed on the brakes and went flying over the handlebars."
Police, who are seeking the driver of the car, said the accident victim was a young male who sustained some road rash and refused medical treatment. In another accident Monday afternoon, a moped rider in Oak Bluffs coming around the same right bend where Mrs. Miller lost control of her moped narrowly escaped a head-on collision with a Lexus SUV.
"Just before he collided, he jumped off. The moped was destroyed," said police Lieut. David Roberts. The rider received minor injuries and was treated and released at the Martha's Vineyard Hospital.
In both accidents Monday, the victims fared far better than some other riders this summer who have ended up on the pavement.
Last week, the victim of an accident in early June who crashed into a guardrail in Oak Bluffs and needed 12 stitches to sew up a gash in her thigh, took the first steps to file a lawsuit against a dealer, claiming that the moped was defective and the training she received inadequate and misleading.
Meanwhile, the family of Barnard Lorence, who was critically injured in a crash in Edgartown just five days after Mrs. Miller died, has continued its bedside vigil for the past 22 days in a Boston hospital where the 60-year-old Florida man is struggling to recover from severe head trauma.
After weeks in critical condition and at times in a coma, he is now listed in fair condition, but Dr. Alan Hirshberg, emergency services director at the Vineyard hospital, said that Mr. Lorence will likely have "a long road to go" in his recovery from such head injuries.
"It's a life-altering event," said Dr. Hirshberg. "It is also for the woman who hit the moped."
For people involved in such accidents, the one sure result is pain - from the physical recovery, from guilt or from grief.
"It's been a huge loss, one we're still struggling with day to day. And especially for her husband, since he witnessed the accident, he's still going through it," said Mrs. Davis. Her 30-year-old sister Kate was the middle child of three siblings.
"We're from a very close family," she said. "We're originally from England and when we moved here, we didn't know anyone. Kate was like the leader of the family."
Now, Mrs. Davis said, she and her family hope to channel their feelings of anger and loss into efforts that would protect future tourists on the Vineyard from the deadly dangers of mopeds.
"They didn't sign any paperwork. They were given keys and shown how to turn [the mopeds] on and off," she said. "It's amazing to me that the moped rental dealers get to reap the economic benefits. We're interested in pursuing something to try and eradicate these businesses. The type of person my sister was, she would definitely have wanted us to do something like that."
As soon as she heard of her sister's accident on July 7, Mrs. Davis and her father flew to the Island. "We didn't know how extensive Kate's injuries were," she said. "We were hoping we would sit by her bedside. Then we got notice she had died."
Mrs. Davis said of her short time on the Island, "I've never met such nice people, and helpful." Then, she added, "I read about doctors signing a petition, but a petition is just a start."
In fact, efforts to reactivate statewide legislation restricting moped rentals are starting to build momentum. Tisbury attorney Dan Larkosh, who is representing the June moped victim in the lawsuit against an Oak Bluffs dealer, told the Gazette that a fundraiser slated for August 28 will help generate money for a lobbyist to advocate a state law requiring moped operators to hold a motorcycle license.
Last spring, West Tisbury police chief Beth Toomey and state Rep. Eric Turkington helped broker a compromise with moped dealers and their opponents. Mr. Turkington agreed to pull back on his proposed legislation in exchange for an agreement from dealers to implement a nine-point plan aimed at reducing moped accidents.
After last month's fatality, Chief Toomey brought both groups back to the table and told dealers they would be subject to unannounced spot checks to see if they are following the plan, especially whether they are requiring renters to sign an inherent risk form which spells out the dangers of riding a moped on Island roads.
"A good number of dealers have tried in good faith and with due diligence to implement the nine points," said Mr. Turkington's aide, Russell Smith. "The question is, does it make any difference given the carrying capacity of roads on the Vineyard?"
Representative Turkington told the Gazette yesterday that the important step is to find out whether dealers are complying with the nine-point plan. "If it's not being done, that's a huge issue, and I would suggest that voluntary measures are inadequate," he said.