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What we know about the fatal incident on ‘Jaws’ bridge in Martha’s Vineyard

Boston.com 8/17/2022 Ross Cristantiello
A woman takes in the view near a makeshift memorial set on the “Jaws Bridge” in Edgartown. © Craig F. Walker/Boston Globe A woman takes in the view near a makeshift memorial set on the “Jaws Bridge” in Edgartown.

Police continued their search Tuesday for 21-year-old Tavaughn Bulgin, who has been missing since jumping off the “Jaws” bridge on Martha’s Vineyard late Sunday night. Officials say he jumped into the waters with Tavaris Bulgin, his 26-year-old brother, and two others. The body of Tavaris was recovered Monday morning. Tavaughn is presumed dead. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

What we know about the initial incident

At about 11:20 p.m. on Sunday, first responders were called to the American Legion Memorial Bridge between Edgartown and Oak Bluffs, a spokesperson for the Coast Guard told Boston.com. The bridge appeared in the movie “Jaws,” and swimmers frequently jump off it into the waters below. 

A group of four friends, including the two Bulgin brothers, lept off the bridge. The two others got out of the water safely, but Tavaris and Tavaughn could not be found. 

At around 6:30 a.m. on Monday, police found the body of Tavaris Bulgin.

According to a Facebook post from Omar George, a self-described family friend of the brothers and their parents, the four friends dove off the bridge. One brother “got in trouble,” George wrote, while the other brother “perhaps went to help.”

The bridge, sometimes called “Big Bridge” by locals, lies along Joseph A. Sylvia State Beach. It separates Nantucket Sound from Sengekontacket Pond. Although signs posted along the area warn visitors that jumping off the bridge is illegal, many partake in the activity every summer. 

The water under the bridge is about 15 feet deep. Depending on the tides, strong currents can pose a danger to swimmers. Weaker swimmers can be caught off guard, and nearby rocks also create hazards.

State Senator Julian Cyr, in an interview with the Globe, said that the way to prevent future accidents at the bridge was to focus on educating people, especially the seasonal workers of Martha’s Vineyard. Adding extra police patrols to the bridge and cracking down on jumping would not be the right use of limited law enforcement resources, he said. 

What we know about the search

Members of the Coast Guard, Massachusetts State Police, and local police kept up the search throughout Sunday night and Monday morning, however tide changes forced them to take a break around noon, Oak Bluffs Fire Chief Nelson Wirtz told The Boston Globe. Some vehicles, like an MSP helicopter and a Coast Guard ship, were able to continue. 

On Monday afternoon, the search was mainly focused on the ocean side of the bridge, according to an MSP post on Twitter. 

The MSP Marine Unit and Dive Team suspended the search around 4:30 p.m. Monday, and promised to return Tuesday with members of the Massachusetts Environmental Police. 

On Tuesday morning, divers and other police units resumed the search, focusing on the side of the bridge bordering the inlet and pond, a State Police spokesman told the Globe. Police deployed side-scanning sonar technology Tuesday, which allows searchers to map the seafloor.

“We are using sidescan sonar to detect objects or anomalies in water column or on ocean floor. If sonar detects something we will dive on it,” said a post on the MSP Twitter account. 

After failing to find Tavaughn Bulgin’s body Tuesday morning, crews worked their way back over to the bridge’s ocean side. But poor weather caused dangerous conditions, the spokesman said, and Tuesday’s search was suspended at 1 p.m. Going forward, weather conditions will be assessed on a day-by-day basis to determine whether it is safe to resume the search.  

What we know about the victims

The Bulgin brothers hailed from Clarendon, Jamaica. They were living in Oak Bluffs for the summer while working at Nomans restaurant. The eatery was closed Tuesday, according to an Instagram post, and planned to open back up Wednesday. 

Tavaris and Tavaughn were in the U.S. as part of a work-and-travel program for university-aged students, according to the Jamaica Observer

A spokesman for the Bulgin family told the Globe that Tavaris and Tavaughn are the sons of Rev. Keith Bulgin, a pastor at Palmers Cross New Testament Church of God in Clarendon. The brothers also had two sisters. Some family members sought medical attention after learning the tragic news. 

The two brothers grew up in the church, playing music during services and helping their father. Both went to college and studied business. One attended University of the West Indies and another attended The University of Technology, Jamaica, according to the Observer.  

In George’s Facebook post, he described being the best man at Rev. Bulgin’s wedding. The two boys were like sons to him, he wrote, and they usually stopped at his Connecticut home before going off to Martha’s Vineyard. 

Just such a visit occurred a few weeks ago, George wrote. The Bulgin brothers cooked for him and boasted of working in a restaurant that was visited by President Barack Obama. 

George drove the brothers to Massachusetts, he wrote, and they called him last week to wish him a happy birthday, promising to celebrate when they returned. 

“These two boys are like my blood sons. I loved them so much. I know them from birth. They are good, godly, smart, jovial, crazy, full of life and talented individuals,” the post read. 

The post What we know about the fatal incident on ‘Jaws’ bridge in Martha’s Vineyard appeared first on Boston.com.

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