ROQUE BLUFFS, Maine — The Department of Transportation has erected numerous signs warning motorists about a boat ramp where two women lost their lives in an automobile accident this summer.
Ted Talbot, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation, confirmed Monday that the agency did the work and erected signs on Schoppee Point Road, even though it is not a state road.
The department and the town agreed to an exchange of services, he said. In return for the highway agency clearing vegetation and erecting signage, town officials agreed to be responsible for some roadside mowing, he said. The project, completed a little over a week ago, cost about $500, according to Talbot.
“We put up signage in consultation with the town given the scope of the tragedy,” said Talbot.
The two women, disoriented while driving on a rainy, foggy night on July 23, were killed when the minivan in which they were traveling went to the end of Schoppee Point Road, down the sharply descending boat ramp and plunged into the water of Great Cove. The victims were Amy Stiner, 37, of Machias, who was pregnant, and Melissa Moyer 38, a friend from Sunbury, Pa. Their bodies were pulled from the 2001 Dodge Caravan minivan — which Stiner had been driving — after the vehicle was recovered from the water.
Stiner made a desperate 911 cellphone call while the women apparently were trapped inside the minivan, water entering the vehicle; then the call cut out.
Town and highway department officials were in communication shortly after the tragedy, said Talbot, but he was not sure if town officials requested the signage or if state officials volunteered to erect it.
The department agreed to “immediately address what the town considered a shortcoming,” said Talbot.
There now are two pairs of warning signs along the road and additional signage at the boat ramp — six in all. Some signs consist of two or three individual signs on a single post.
One pair of signs is located a half-mile from the boat ramp and adjacent to an entrance to one of the state park’s parking lots. They consist of three signs; from top to bottom, the three signs read “no outlet,” “road ends,” and “1/2 mile.”
Another pair of signs is located 300 feet from the boat ramp. They read “road ends” and, below, “300 feet.” Under the bottom sign, reflectors have been attached to the wooden posts.
Another sign, “end of road,” has been placed where the pavement begins the descent to the boat ramp. A red reflector is beneath the sign.
Finally, a “public boat access” sign has been placed next to the boat ramp with additional red reflectors above and below it.
More vegetation was removed, mainly on one side of the road prior to the last pair of signs. In addition, other vegetation was cleared in an area next to the breakwater, where there is a marker honoring fishermen.
“It looks real nice,” said Richard Donaher, manager of Roque Bluffs State Park. The signs and reflectors are very visible at night, he said.
“Hopefully, it won’t happen again,” said Jeff Conley, a Roque Bluffs lobster fisherman, shortly after removing his skiff at the boat ramp around midday on Monday.
“This road’s sort of hard to navigate anyway,” said Conley, and it would have been particularly difficult the night of the accident because of the heavy fog, he recalled.
Conley came to the boat ramp the night of the accident, curious about the sirens and emergency responders. “It was pretty black over here,” he recalled. “No street lights. No nothing.”
Valarie Preston, a member of the town’s Board of Selectmen, declined to discuss the new signage — or to clarify whether the town had requested the signs of the highway department or the DOT had voluntarily erected them.
“I really can’t discuss it at this time,” said Preston. “All the agencies are working together.”
“I think they’re a little more concerned now,” a woman, who lives nearby but declined to give her name, said of town officials. “I think they’re afraid of being sued.
“I think they’ve shown a great concern,” the woman said, “but I think it was a little bit too late.”
Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith suggested earlier that Stiner likely drove the minivan down the ramp and into the water before she realized what was occurring and had time to apply the brakes.
The women became lost while hiking earlier in nearby Roque Bluffs State Park, but eventually were reunited with their vehicle with the aid of a nearby resident and the Maine Warden Service. However, Stiner apparently was confused and headed the wrong way when driving away from the park.