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The distress calls over the radio were loud and clipped and they kept coming. “Mayday! Mayday!”

The craft in trouble Saturday was a 29-foot powerboat with nine young women ages 19 to 22 aboard and four men in their 30s, one of them the allegedly drunk captain, 33-year-old Benjamin Urbelis, a self-employed lawyer who specializes in DUI defense cases. His boat’s name: “Naut Guilty.”

Minutes before the distress plea, the boat was seen swerving through the remains of the Long Island Bridge, maneuvering the wrong way through the passage, a witness said. Urbelis attempted to anchor near Spectacle Island, and 19-year-old Nicole Berthiaume of Auburn jumped over the side to retrieve a seat cushion that had blown into the water, prosecutors say.

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As she struggled to climb aboard, the Naut Guilty’s propeller cut off her arm above the elbow.

The woman was rescued by Boston Fire Department and Coast Guard vessels that raced to the scene and stopped her bleeding, and she was in stable condition yesterday at Massachusetts General Hospital. A frantic, and ultimately vain, search for her severed arm continued until dark.

Urbelis was arrested on charges of operating under the influence and reckless operation of the vessel. He pleaded not guilty Monday standing before a Boston Municipal Court judge, wearing a “Beat L.A.” Boston Celtics T-shirt and swimming trunks. He was ordered held on $75,000 cash bail.

A Suffolk County prosecutor said at the arraignment that Urbelis was “drunk and belligerent” when interviewed by police Saturday night following the incident.

Urbelis initially refused any field sobriety tests, prosecutors said. When he allegedly consented to a breath test about four hours later, his blood-alcohol level was measured at .09, according to Assistant District Attorney Nicole Rimar — over the legal limit of .08 for both land and water.

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Even before the mayday calls echoed on radios around the harbor, Boston Fire Department Lieutenant Charlie Popp and the four-man crew of the department’s firefighting and rescue boat, the John S. Damrell, were racing toward Spectacle Island, alerted to the gruesome scene by a 911 call placed from the Naut Guilty.

Benjamin Urbelis, 33, was arraigned at Boston Municipal Court on Monday.
Benjamin Urbelis, 33, was arraigned at Boston Municipal Court on Monday.Ted Fitzgerald/Pool

Dan Romaine, who was on a nearby sailboat, saw the Naut Guilty speed by, then minutes later he heard the mayday calls, but could not assist because the calls provided no location or information about what was wrong, he said in an interview.

On the Fire Department ship, the calls were mostly drowned out by Coast Guard emergency signals, Popp said. But he had no way to know which boat was in trouble.

As the Damrell approached the southwest corner of Spectacle Island, Popp surveyed the seascape: A few boats were moored nearby. More were likely hidden in the marina.

But just outside the channel, a boat was sitting still — unusual, he thought, so close to the busy channel back toward the dock.

As the Damrell approached the Naut Guilty, Popp saw frantic waving. He got on the hailer and yelled for the passengers to sit down: The big fire boat could easily rock the passengers into the harbor.

“They were yelling, ‘Hurry! Hurry!’ ” Popp said. As the Damrell approached, he saw a Coast Guard boat on the other side of the Naut Guilty.

The smaller boat — a 45-foot response boat captained by Petty Officer Second Class Thomas Ciarametaro, according to Petty Officer Second Class LaNola Stone — came up to the Naut Guilty and took the woman, bleeding badly, aboard.

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Tourniquet dangling from his pocket, senior deckhand William Benevelli leapt from the Damrell to the Coast Guard boat before the two ships had tied up. The 25-year paramedic tied off the woman’s bleeding arm, Popp said later.

She was strapped into a gurney and taken aboard the Damrell, where she was monitored in a triage room while the boat sped to shore.

Popp credited the Coast Guard, paramedics at the dock, and his own crew with what he said may have been a life-saving effort. Death is common on the water, he said, and few survive such grievous injuries.

“We were very fortunate,” Popp said. “It’s the first one I’m aware of recently with injuries this severe where everything worked out well.”

None of the passengers on the boat returned messages seeking comment on Monday.

In the courtroom Monday, Urbelis tried to avoid being photographed, but the judge ordered him to step forward into public view. Urbelis’s lawyer, Daniel O’Malley, who is widely known for representing motorists accused of drunken driving, told Municipal Court Judge Sally Kelly that Urbelis is a self-employed attorney. According to the state Board of Bar Overseers website, Urbelis was admitted to the bar in December 2008.

On a website advertising the services of Urbelis Law LLC, Urbelis claimed to have won acquittals in 80 percent of his trial cases as a defense attorney.

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The site said his practice specialized in defending drunken driving, motor vehicle, and drug cases. It said he attended Suffolk University Law School and has a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Connecticut.

The website also said he was part owner of at least one Boston bar and started a “nightlife consulting” company called Top Shelf Entertainment.

According to Registry of Motor Vehicles records, Urbelis was arrested in Andover on New Year’s Eve in 1998 for operating under the influence when he was 16. He failed a breathalyzer test, exceeding the .02 level for juvenile drivers, according to the Registry.

Urbelis was required to attend a program on the dangers of alcohol consumption targeting teenage drivers and his right to drive was suspended twice in 1999 for the drunken driving charge, Registry records show.

Urbelis has also amassed a three-page driving history. He has been cited for speeding three times, most recently in Randolph in 2008, and he was involved in a surchargeable accident in Somerville in 2005 and cited for illegal operation of a motor vehicle in Boston in August 2005, the records show.


John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete. Nestor Ramos can be reached at nestor.ramos@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.