Oak Bluffs police say former Tisbury selectman A. Kirk Briggs was driving drunk just before midnight Tuesday when his 1989 Chevy pickup truck hit a 25-year-old woman from Estonia who was walking her bicycle along New York avenue just west of Our Market.
The woman, Jelena Shvaikovskaja, died Wednesday at a Boston hospital, and Mr. Briggs has now been charged with motor vehicle homicide, operating a vehicle under the influence and negligent operation. Mr. Briggs, 54, faces at least a one-year jail sentence if convicted of the charges, which are considered a felony offense, according to police.
Oak Bluffs police Det. Warren Gosson said that Miss Shvaikovskaja, who was on the Island as part of a work-study program, was walking with two friends on New York avenue near East Chop Drive. She had just gotten off work from the Mad Martha's ice cream shop on Circuit avenue, one of two jobs she held.
"From all indications she was walking with the bike on her right side, and she was exposed to the roadside along the white fog line,'' Detective Gosson said. "She was hit from the back and carried to the intersection of Chapman and New York avenue, a distance of about 110 feet.''
Police and ambulance crews arrived on the scene at five minutes past midnight. Police described Miss Shvaikovskaja's injuries in initial reports as "extremely critical.'' Police also determined that Mr. Briggs had been drinking alcohol, and they administered a field sobriety test before placing him under arrest for operating under the influence. He was also cited for driving a car with an inspection sticker that had expired in March.
Mr. Briggs was tested at the Dukes County jail, where his blood-alcohol level was recorded as .14, police said. The legal limit is .08.
Miss Shvaikovskaja was taken by ambulance to Martha's Vineyard Hospital and treated for severe head injuries, but by 3 a.m., medical crews were putting her on a Coast Guard jet at the Dukes County Airport for emergency transport to Beth Israel Hospital. Hospital officials said fog prevented a MedFlight helicopter from coming over to the Island.
According to Vineyard hospital officials, Miss Shvaikovskaja was treated by a trauma team at Beth Israel, but she died at 10:50 a.m.
Mr. Briggs was held at Dukes County jail before being released later in the day on $1,000 bail. He is expected to be arraigned again in Edgartown District Court on the more serious homicide charge. Detective Gosson could not say when that would happen.
On Wednesday, the state police accident reconstruction team worked with Oak Bluffs police officers to investigate the scene. Police also have statements from the two witnesses, who were walking with Miss Shvaikovskaja. One is Estonian, the other from the Czech Republic.
According to Detective Gosson, Mr. Briggs told police that he had been with a friend who lives on the Camp Ground, and he was heading home to Tisbury. According to court records dating back to 1990, Mr. Briggs has no prior convictions for drunk driving.
A carpenter, Mr. Briggs is widely known on the Island, not only for his political activity as a former selectman and a former Martha's Vineyard commissioner, but also for his volunteer work in youth sports. He has for many years coached youth soccer teams. It was not uncommon yesterday to overhear people on Island streets talking about the incident, expressing a sense of shock, disbelief and sadness for those affected on both sides of the tragedy.
But for the victim, there was a sense of mourning and loss. In June, Miss Shvaikovskaja arrived on the Island for the summer as part of an exchange program and began working two jobs, one at Cronig's Market in Vineyard Haven, the other at Mad Martha's. She started out at the Vineyard Haven shop and then moved to the Oak Bluffs outlet, working the night shift scooping ice cream from 5 to 11 p.m.
"I hired her,'' said Shane O'Shea yesterday. "She was very pleasant, hardworking and very pretty. She got along with everyone very well, and she was always keen on doing anything. Her English was getting better, and she was getting to be more open.''
Another co-worker then chimed in. Two nights earlier, she'd just given Jelena (pronounced Yelena) a ride home. "She talked about her university. It was in a college town,'' she said.
At Cronig's, Jelena Shvaikovskaja worked at the salad bar. Her boss, Sam Koohy, said yesterday that the young woman was shy at first but was just beginning to talk more and share about her life.
"The whole store is deeply in shock,'' Mr. Koohy said. "We just started to get to know her. It is sad.''
Miss Shvaikovskaja lived with other friends, all of them Estonians or eastern Europeans, in an apartment at Tripp Barnes's moving company on State Road. She would work mornings across the street at Cronig's, prepping for the salad bar from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. Then she'd head over to Mad Martha's. Manager Rob Kosienski Jr. said the one thing that comforted him was when he learned that Jelena's father was in Boston and was able to make it to the hospital to be with his daughter.
"At least she was with her father,'' he said. "Still, just to look at the schedule and see her name is very emotional. It's not like she's sick. She's not coming back.''
Her father was on the Island yesterday and met with police. Miss Shvaikovskaja was planning to return to Estonia next month.