A Boston attorney who specializes in defending people charged with drunken driving pleaded not guilty Monday to operating a boat while drunk after a woman fell overboard and lost her arm in the propeller over the weekend.
Benjamin Urbelis, 33, of Charlestown, was held on $75,000 bail and ordered to surrender his passport at his arraignment on Monday.
The incident happened shortly before 8 p.m. Saturday in the waters around Spectacle Island in Boston Harbor. Police and the Coast Guard said Urbelis was operating his 29-foot boat Naut Guilty when 19-year-old passenger Nicole Berthiaume, of Auburn, jumped off to retrieve something that fell overboard. Her arm was cut off at the shoulder by the boat's propeller. It was never found.
"She had apparently jumped into the water in an attempt to get a pad that had fallen off the boat and into the water," said Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Nicole Rimar. "Several other passengers from the boat had attempted to retrieve this pad as well. A life jacket was thrown to her by someone on the boat, but unfortunately she was hit by the propeller because the engine was still running."
Urbelis, who showed up in court dressed in a bathing suit and green "Beat L.A." t-shirt, was arraigned Monday on operating a boat under the influence causing serious bodily injury, negligent operation of a boat and operating a motorboat without a legally required ID number.
Urbelis' lawyer said his client is an accomplished professional and not a flight risk, The Associated Press reported. Urbelis is also part-owner of a Boston bar and founder of a nightlife consulting company, according to a website for his law practice.
In all, authorities say there were 13 people on board at the time of the accident on the vessel. Court records list witnesses as three men in their 30s, a 15-year-old boy and nine women between the ages of 19 and 22.
Prosecutors say Urbelis refused a field sobriety test at first; four hours later, he took a breathalyzer test and allegedly registered a .09, which is just over the legal limit.
"The Coast Guard had described him to the environmental police as drunk and belligerent in assisting the defendant out of the water, the environmental police officer noticed that he smelled of alcohol and his eyes were glassy and bloodshot," said Rimar.
Authorities believe Urbelis was operating the boat and had control of its navigation when Berthiaume was injured.
Urbelis is a Boston attorney who, according to his website, specializes in OUI cases. His attorney is Daniel O'Malley.
Berthiaume was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital; she was reported in stable condition on Monday morning.
Urbelis' next court date is June 26.
On Tuesday, the Suffolk District Attorney's Office said that Urbelis' bail was dropped from $75,000 to $10,000.