, Newburyport, MA

July 25, 2013

Terms of suspension altered for boat club

Owners can choose month-long closure or pay fine

By Dave Rogers
Staff Writer

---- — NEWBURYPORT — The state’s liquor licensing board Tuesday rescinded its indefinite suspension of the North End Boat Club’s liquor license and instead ordered it suspended for an additional 30 days starting in mid-September. The decision clears the way for the once-beleaguered club to open for business during Yankee Homecoming and the rest of what is considered the summer season.

However, the Mansion Avenue club has the option of avoiding the month-long suspension should it pay a fine equal to half the money it would make on liquor sales during that time, according to Newburyport police.

The state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission suspended the North End Boat Club’s license on Feb. 14, in the wake of a fatal New Year’s Eve accident that police traced back to the Newburyport social club and marina off Merrimac Street.

In its ruling, the ABCC found the boat club in violation of five regulations, including hindering or delaying the investigation into the crash on the Route 1 Gillis Bridge just over the river in Salisbury that killed a 41-year-old East Hampstead, N.H., woman.

During a January hearing, police and ABCC investigators said a boat club official refused to answer questions regarding the police department’s investigation and had not turned over requested documentation. At the hearing, a club manager admitted the club violated the four paperwork and procedural statutes, but remained defiant on the hindering or delaying charge.

Newburyport police Detective Matthew Simons, who was at the January hearing, said since the indefinite suspension of its license, North End Boat Club officials have complied with the department’s investigation into the crash. Simons added that the case remains under investigation.

Earlier this month, North End Boat Club officials filed a motion of reconsideration with the ABCC, and on July 16 met with the board inside its Boston headquarters. As part of last Tuesday’s ruling, the ABCC admonished the club for hindering investigators.

“The commission will not tolerate any conduct from a licensee towards a commission investigator that is anything less than respectful or compliant. As a result, the order of indefinite suspension as to this violation will be lifted and a definite period of suspension will be imposed,” the commission wrote in its decision.

The North End Boat Club has 30 days to appeal the commission’s decision. Should it decide to agree to the month-long suspension, it must deliver its liquor license to a city licensing official by 9 a.m. on Sept. 11. It would then be returned on Friday, Oct. 11.

What the North End Boat Club will decide to do is unknown. A person answering the phone at the club yesterday hung up on a reporter.

Police allege that Mikhael Sarkis of Lawrence, a bartender at North End Boat Club, was drunk when he left the property and got behind the wheel of his car with his girlfriend, Donna Bergeron, and another passenger, Clifford Pollard of Salisbury.

The three had been at the club, which was holding a New Year’s Eve party. The accident occurred just one mile from the club.

The ABCC ruling immediately prohibited North End Boat Club from selling, displaying or giving away alcohol.

Bergeron was riding unbuckled in the front seat of the Lincoln Town Car operated by Sarkis, who entered the bridge in the wrong direction, heading north in the southbound lane. Sarkis crashed head-on into a Mercury Marquis driven by 20-year-old Corey Burgess of Salisbury.

Sarkis, who spent several weeks in a Boston-area hospital recovering from injuries, was indicted by a Salem Superior Court grand jury in May on vehicular homicide, manslaughter and other charges, and is awaiting trial.