By Dave Rogers
---- — NEWBURYPORT — What seemed three years ago to be a routine arrest for drunk driving took an odd turn this week when police discovered that the drunk driver had lied about his name, causing serious legal woes for his innocent brother.
Upon his arrest on Sept. 18, 2010 for drunken driving in Newbury, Joseph G. Viarella, 58, of 28 Loomis St., Revere, was able to convince police officers that he was his brother, Christopher, 51. Two days later in district court, Joseph Viarella again posed as his brother and pleaded to the charge of drunken driving-first offense.
This week, he was back in court to answer for his actions, all while his brother watched from the gallery.
Essex County prosecutor Shailagh Kennedy told Judge Mary McCabe that Viarella pretended to be his brother to avoid what would have been his fifth drunken driving conviction dating back to 1982.
But when the Registry of Motor Vehicles sent word to Christopher Viarella that his license had been suspended for OUI, he alerted authorities that he was nowhere near Newbury and never set foot in the courtroom.
Joseph Viarella was driving southbound on Route 1 after visiting friends on Salisbury Beach when police watched his car swerve into the other lane and brake quickly. When questioned by police, he identified himself as his brother and then agreed to field sobriety tests. After failing those tests and blowing a .15 blood alcohol level, almost twice the legal limit, he was charged with drunken driving, according to Kennedy.
But what police didn’t know was that Viarella had been convicted four times previously for OUI including incidents in Malden, Boston and Maine dating back to 1982.
Armed with an arrest warrant, Newbury police went to Viarella’s Revere house Thursday morning and placed him under arrest. He was also charged with arrestee furnishing false name, operating a motor vehicle with a revoked license due to OUI and marked lanes.
Viarella’s court appointed attorney, Michael Baldassarre, argued that his 1982 OUI conviction may have been in error, stating that there is some confusion as to whether it was his client or his client’s father, who was also in the courtroom, behind the wheel at the time. With that in mind, Baldassarre asked for his client to be released to his father’s custody whom he currently lives with, and monitored around the clock via electronic bracelet.
Kennedy asked that Viarella be held without bail pending a dangerousness hearing which would feature testimony from Newbury police officers involved in the case.
McCabe agreed with Kennedy’s argument that Massachusetts laws allow for dangerousness hearings for defendants with three or more OUI convictions and ordered him held without bail. Viarella’s dangerousness hearing is scheduled for next Wednesday.