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One charge dropped against lawyer in boat accident

Further investigation allegedly showed another man was at the helm of the Naut Guilty when a woman’s arm was severed.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File/Globe Staff

Suffolk prosecutors Friday formally dropped one charge against a Charlestown lawyer who was once believed to have been operating his power boat while drunk when a 19-year-old woman’s arm was sheared off by its propeller in Boston Harbor.

Benjamin P. Urbelis was arrested by Boston police May 30 and charged with causing serious bodily injury while operating a boat under the influence of alcohol. But Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s office dropped that charge after further investigation allegedly showed another man, Alexander Williams, was at the helm of the Naut Guilty when the woman was seriously hurt.

However, Urbelis remains charged with operating under the influence because authorities continue to believe he operated the power boat while drunk on May 30, according to Conley’s office. Urbelis is also charged with negligent operation of a boat and operating a motorboat without a registration number.


Urbelis, 33, has pleaded not guilty to all charges and is due back in Boston Municipal Court July 31.

Urbelis’s defense attorney, Daniel O’Malley of Quincy, expressed approval for the decision by prosecutors, but said that he had hoped all of the charges against his client would be dropped.

“While we are pleased that the Commonwealth has recognized that Mr. Urbelis was not driving the boat at the time the young woman was injured and while we are pleased that the Commonwealth has reduced the charge to a simple misdemeanor [OUI] charge, we are disappointed there remains any charge,” he said.

The move to reduce the charges against Urbelis came after Williams appeared in Boston Municipal Court on Wednesday to plead not guilty to charges of negligent operation of a boat, destroying evidence on his cellphone before police could search it, and procuring alcohol for several teenagers who were on the boat.

Bail was set at $5,000 cash.


Williams, 24, allegedly started the engine on the Naut Guilty, which was anchored near Spectacle Island, and “negligently moved the boat in the direction of the victim,” prosecutors said in court.

Williams was identified as the driver of the vessel at the time of the accident.

The victim, Nicole Berthiaume , 19, of Auburn, had jumped off the boat to retrieve a seat cushion that had blown into the water, officials said. As she tried to climb back aboard, her arm was caught in the boat’s propeller and was severed above the elbow, authorities say.

Williams’s lawyer, Joe Serpa, said in court that his client started the engine because Berthiaume was “in a panic” and appeared to be in danger. Williams acted, according to his attorney, because Urbelis was the only qualified operator of the vessel and he had jumped off the boat.

But prosecutors contend Berthiaume was not in danger of drowning when Williams took the wheel.

Authorities allege that Williams, a student at New England Law School, erased text messages from his phone Wednesday morning before handing it over to Boston police detectives who had come to his Boston apartment building with a search warrant.

A detective noticed the phone was in “restore factory settings mode,” and the device’s contents were being erased, a police report said.

The report also said that a lawyer for Williams began to yell at him, saying, “That is the stupidest thing . . . no, no, no!”

John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter@JREbosglobe. Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.