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Captain claims he wasn’t on boat when teen’s arm severed

The Charlestown man at the center of a high-profile drunken boating case was not aboard his vessel when its propeller severed a woman’s arm on Boston Harbor, his attorney said, offering Benjamin Urbelis’s perspective for the first time since he was accused last month.

Attorney Daniel O’Malley said Thursday in an interview that Urbelis, 33, was swimming in the water when the boat, called the Naut Guilty, was turned on, slicing into 19-year-old Nicole Berthiaume’s limb.

“The investigation has shown that Ben drove the boat to the Spectacle Island area, turned it off, put the anchor down, and was in the water with two other people for at least 30 minutes,” O’Malley said. “Someone else started the boat.”

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Urbelis, himself a lawyer whose website says he specializes in DUI cases, pleaded not guilty to charges including reckless and drunken boating causing a serious injury following the March 30 accident. Urbelis also works as a nightclub promoter.

On June 2, Urbelis’s bail was reduced from $75,000 to $10,000 as prosecutors continued to investigate the events that led to Berthiaume’s injuries. He was released soon after.

In a prior statement, Jake Wark, a spokesman for the Suffolk district attorney’s office, which is handling the case, said the “full extent of the defendant’s operation and control of the boat” were still under investigation.

O’Malley’s version of his client’s actions was similar to statements provided to the Globe earlier this month by two passengers who said they were on the boat that night.

The passengers claimed Urbelis was in the water when Berthiaume, of Auburn, went overboard into the harbor and lost her arm in the boat’s propeller. The statements did not say who was driving the boat.

The accounts also corresponded with details provided by the captain of another boat who said he came upon the chaotic scene and scooped Urbelis from the water, nearly a quarter-mile from the Naut Guilty. The boat captain said Urbelis appeared to be very cold.

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O’Malley’s claims came one day after Urbelis filed a five-page civil action in US District Court asking a judge to absolve him of responsibility for the injuries sustained by people who were onboard his vessel.

According to the complaint, Urbelis wants to limit his liability.

Another lawyer listed as representing Urbelis in the federal court filing did not immediately return a request for comment.

Berthiaume did not return a message seeking comment Thursday.


Nestor Ramos can be reached at nestor.ramos@globe.com. Steve Annear can be reached atsteve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.