, Newburyport, MA

January 10, 2013

Officials: 'Thanks-drinking' was one of Port's worst binges

By Dave Rogers
Staff Writer

---- — NEWBURYPORT — In the waning hours of Thanksgiving eve, a Newburyport man who was enjoying a high school reunion with friends at Michael’s Harborside was asked to leave by a manager who determined he and one of his friends had too much to drink and were becoming belligerent.

But instead of leaving peacefully, the patron grabbed his beer glass and hurled it at the manager, injuring her in the process, according to Newburyport police.

During the police investigation into the incident, 29-year-old Jonathan Kelley, a dispatcher and call firefighter for the city, denied throwing the glass at the manager but admitted to police he had too much to drink. Earlier this week, Kelley’s assault and battery charge was continued without finding for seven months, meaning if he stays out of trouble, the charge against him will be dropped and his record cleared. He was also ordered to pay $290 in court costs and $11.50 to the manager.

Kelley’s alleged activity was but one of many alcohol-fueled incidents that night that taxed the resources of local police, prompting City Marshal Thomas Howard this week to call that November night one of the more troubling he’s witnessed since assuming command over a decade ago.

Howard said he witnessed numerous incidents around the downtown area that included people lying passed out on the street, throwing up in barrels, people driving the wrong way on Green Street and a woman being dragged down Merrimac Street.

“And that in the matter of less than an hour,” Howard said.

Four people were also cited for under-aged drinking at 11 p.m., Howard added.

Andrea Egmont of the Newburyport Department of Youth Services said she wasn’t surprised Howard witnessed so many drinking-related incidents that night, saying it’s been a problem for years.

“It’s Thanks-drinking eve,” Egmont said.

Egmont said with students and alumni coming home for the holiday, added with the number of pouring establishments in the downtown area alone, creates the perfect storm for drinking-related incidents.

“Nobody should be walking out of a bar throwing up,” Egmont said.

The police department and the Department of Youth Services have been members of the Beacon Coalition, a multi-faceted group created in 2006 that is determined to find effective solutions to reduce under-age use and abuse of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

Methods employed by the Beacon Coalition include training bar and restaurant staff to determine whether someone has had enough to drink and to keep minors from being served. The coalition has also used grant money to fund under-aged drinking stings conducted by the police.

Howard said on July 27, an under-aged female accompanied an undercover police officer into all of the city’s licensed drinking establishments as part of a summer compliance check. Four restaurants and bars — the Black Cow, Hana Japan, Upper Crust Pizzeria and Szechuan Taste — were caught serving alcohol to the minor. After leaving the restaurant with the undercover officer, another officer entered and told the manager on duty that they had violated their liquor licenses. The establishments were all given warnings by the city’s Liquor Licensing Commission and ordered to undergo awareness training offered by the coalition.

Harsher penalties could have included one-day, three-day or even longer suspensions of their liquor licenses. Such penalties can cost establishments thousands of dollars and have the potential of shutting down a business permanently. Such suspensions are typically doled out by the city Liquor Licensing Commission or the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.

The ABCC and local police are currently investigating the North End Boat Club for its potential role in the death of a East Hampstead, N.H., woman who was killed in a head-on collision on the Gillis Bridge on New Year’s Eve. Police believe the driver of the car that killed 41-year-old Donna J. Bergeron may have begun his journey at the Manson Avenue private club and marina, before entering the southbound side of the Route 1 bridge heading north.

Part of the coalition’s mission, however, is to make sure liquor-serving establishments aren’t being disciplined or investigated by the city or the state.

In November 2011, the coalition printed 24,000 coasters and distributed them to six local bars and restaurants. The coasters were aimed at reminding adults that they could go to jail and pay a hefty fine should they buy drinks for someone under-aged. Yesterday, Egmont said the coasters continue to be distributed and were handed out before the most recent Thanksgiving.

The coalition also received funding to establish party patrols, additional police units assigned to crack down on known areas of the city, where under-aged drinking parties often taken place.

But Egmont stressed that while last Thanksgiving eve may have seen an uptick in troubling alcohol-related incidents, that kind of behavior is exhibited year-round.