A St. John man was arrested and charged with vehicular homicide after losing control of the car he was driving and plunging down nearly 400 feet from a Centerline Road drop-off, killing a female passenger.
William Dabey of Estate Glucksberg, 45, had been partying at a bar and was under the influence of alcohol when the accident happened about 3 a.m. Sunday, August 23, according to a V.I. Police Department press release.
Tena Dudley, 34, who was visiting St. John from Florida, was killed when she was ejected from the rear seat of the vehicle and another passenger in the vehicle walked away from medical treatment after the accident, according to police.
The early morning incident occurred heading west on Centerline Road from Coral Bay, according to Bob Malacarne, St. John Rescue’s chief training officer, who was on the scene. The vehicle, a 2006 Jeep Wrangler, landed close to Reef Bay trail — about a 300- to 400-foot drop off from the road, he said.
“As any safety officer or organization would say, here or in the states, drinking and driving is a really dangerous combination,” Malacarne said. “Everybody thinks they can do it, that it isn’t going to happen to them, but it does.”
St. Thomas/St. John Traffic Commander Sgt. Rosalyn Jarvis said Dabey moved to St. John about a month ago and had a prior relationship with Dudley. A background check on Dabey revealed he had several DUI arrests in the states, Sgt. Jarvis said in the release.
The investigation into this fatal accident is still ongoing and an autopsy has been scheduled, according to police.
This is the third fatality on St. John in the past two years caused by people in the back seat not wearing their seat belt, according to Mike Jordan, St. John Rescue’s public information officer.
He said it appeared Dudley was not wearing a seat belt when she was thrown from the jeep’s backseat approximately 30-40 feet, suffering from impact wounds caused by either the vehicle or another obstacle.
“They were going faster than the speed limit and it appears the car was airborne,” Jordan said. “And that girl had a much better chance of surviving if she had her seat belt on.”
The PIO also said this was the third incident St. John Rescue has responded to in the past five years at this exact cliff area.
With St. John’s fire, police, rescue, EMS and National Park responders on the scene, St. John Rescue President Chris Jordan said while the incident was tragic, it was a great example of a successful multi-agency response.
“It was really neat to see how everybody worked together — we got there at 3:30 a.m. and didn’t 8:30 a.m. so it was a long morning,” she said. “But it was evident that all the training we have done really paid off.”
St. John Rescue’s volunteers were among emergency responders who repelled nearly 400 feet down the cliff to save the driver.
“We are volunteers who risked our lives to save the people in this vehicle,” Malacarne said. “We just ask people to drive more carefully, slower and respectfully on our roads. It doesn’t just affect you, it affects police, fire, EMS, Rescue and the other drivers on the road.”
This fatality comes just two days after the VIPD announced the beginning of the Drunk Driving Over the Limit Under Arrest Crackdown on impaired driving. Drunk driving is one of America’s deadliest crimes — in 2007, nearly 13,000 people died nationwide in highway crashes involving a drivers or motorcycle operators with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher.
“My message to the public on Friday was not to drink and drive,” Sgt. Jarvis said. “It’s a shame that this had to happen.”
He urged drivers to find alternate methods of transportation after a night of partying and asked the public to encourage drinkers not to drive, according to the release.
“And by all means, never get into a vehicle with a drunk driver, the life you save may be your own,” he said.
In 2008, the Virgin Islands had 18 traffic fatalities – 15 on St. Croix, two on St. Thomas and one on St. John, according to the VIPD release. So far this year, the territory has seen eight traffic deaths: three on St. Croix, four on St. Thomas and one on St. John.
Although all of these fatal accidents were not attributed to alcohol, the VIPD warned these deaths can be avoided by practicing road safety, using seat belts and being a cautious driver.