ROQUE BLUFFS, Maine — Two women, one five months pregnant, apparently drowned Tuesday night after the car they were traveling in went off a boat ramp and into the ocean in a shroud of fog, police say.
The victims were identified as Amy Stiner, 37, of Machias and Melissa Moyer, 38, of Sunbury, Pa. Stiner, who was pregnant, made a desperate 911 phone call to police to report that her van was in the water.
Authorities recovered the 2001 Dodge Caravan minivan, submerged about 175 feet off the Roque Bluffs boat ramp. The bodies of the two women were inside.
It appears that Stiner, who was driving the minivan, became disoriented in the fog and rain when she drove down Schoppee Point Road, onto the boat ramp and into the water about 9 p.m., according to Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith. The road leads directly to the boat ramp and into the water.
“That’s what it appears they did. I could just picture it happening in the rain and the fog,” said Smith, who was unsure whether there was any signage near the boat ramp.
“I’m sure they hit the water before they hit the brakes,” Smith said.
He was not able to say how fast the vehicle was traveling, but the posted speed limit where the road ends at the ramp is 20 mph.
“If the tide was high … the car could float a few minutes” and be carried out into deeper water, Smith said. He was unable to say the depth of the water where the minivan was recovered, but the tide was high about the time of the accident.
Stiner told a police dispatcher that the van was filling with water before the phone crackled and the line went dead, according to Smith. He said the women were found in the back seat of the vehicle, presumably because the van tilted forward and sank front-end first.
Smith said no autopsies are being done but that it is standard procedure in fatal accidents to conduct blood tests on people involved. Blood test results for Stiner and Moyer are not yet available, he said, but police do not believe alcohol was a factor in the accident.
Information from the 911 call was forwarded to the Maine Warden Service, but wardens who went to the boat ramp could not immediately find the vehicle or the women. The sheriff’s office also went to the scene, along with members of local fire departments, the Machias Police Department, the Maine Marine Patrol and the Coast Guard. The minivan was found about an hour after the 911 call, according to Smith.
A dog also was found dead in the vehicle.
The women apparently were returning late to Stiner’s home after getting lost in the fog earlier in the day while hiking in the area near Roque Bluffs State Park.
Responding to a call for help, the Maine Warden Service contacted a nearby resident, Wayne Hanscom, a firefighter and member of Sunrise Search & Rescue, to assist in finding the women. Hanscom used an ATV to travel along the shore and found the women and their dog. He drove them to a nearby home and then wardens brought them to their vehicle, which was in the state park. They were last seen driving toward the road.
The 911 call was placed from the minivan shortly thereafter.
The Roque Bluffs boat ramp is located about a half mile west of the popular state park beach, next to a pier where summer residents of Roque Island park their vehicles while they are out on the island.
“We’re farmers. Organic farmers,” said Stiner’s husband, Gregg, wearing a tattered blue T-shirt and green work pants and smoking a cigarette as he talked briefly outside the couple’s home on East Kennebec Road in Machias.
Their white clapboard farmhouse, with a scenic vista from the backyard of the upper reaches of the Little Kennebec Bay, is in an area with other farms and rolling pasture land. Sheep and dairy cows grazed on nearby farms.
Stiner declined to talk any further about his wife or the accident.
Aaron Bell, who with his wife, Carly DelSignore, owns and operates Tide Mill Farm in Edmunds Township, said Amy Stiner and her husband moved to Maine from Pennsylvania two years ago. The couple wanted to get into organic farming and start a family, Bell said, and were in the process of doing both.
“Amy was fully dedicated to the local foods movement,” Bell said. “They’ve been working with us for two years.”
The Stiners have been running a Tide Mill Farm satellite operation on Kennebec Road in Machias, Bell said. They were raising 34 young dairy heifers and about 1,000 chickens on leased land off Kennebec Road, he said, and sold Tide Mill products at two farmers markets each week in Bar Harbor and Lubec.
“They were excited to get experience any way they could,” Bell said. “This is just a tragedy. Everyone’s in shock right now.”
Moyer worked for the Shikellamy School District as a personal care aid and was stationed at Milton Area High School in Milton, Pa., helping with alternative placement students, Superintendent Pat Kelley told The Daily Item newspaper. The paper, based in Sunbury, Pa., reported that Moyer had been with the district since 2008.
“On behalf of the Shikellamy School District I would like to extend my condolences to the family and friends of Melissa,” Kelley said. “It is a sad and tragic situation. Melissa was a dedicated employee, and I have had the pleasure of meeting her and she was a wonderful person.”
Justin Anthony, a local fisherman, said he was at home Tuesday night when several emergency vehicles drove past his house with their sirens blaring. He drove a couple of miles down to the ramp to see what was going on and saw that police and divers were trying to get to the submerged vehicle.
Anthony said the tide was about halfway in and that it was foggy and raining intermittently Tuesday night. He said he has never heard of any vehicles accidentally driving into the water at the ramp before.
“I’ve been living here 35 years,” Anthony said. “It’s the first time.”
Jason Leavitt of Maine Marine Patrol stopped briefly at the ramp Wednesday morning to see whether there might be an oil sheen from the accident on the water that could affect clam flats nearby. He said he went to the ramp after the incident was reported Tuesday night and that the vehicle’s momentum likely carried it out into the water before it sank about 50 yards out, slightly east of the end of the ramp.
Leavitt declined further comment about the incident, saying that specific information about what happened would have to come from the sheriff’s office.
The accident remains under investigation, Smith said.