, Newburyport, MA

January 4, 2013

club's role in fatality probed

By Dave Rogers
Staff writer

---- — NEWBURYPORT — Local police and the state Alcoholic Beverages Licensing Commission are investigating the North End Boat Club for its possible role in Monday night’s fatal head-on collision on the Salisbury side of the Gillis Bridge that claimed the life of an East Hampstead, N.H., woman.

According to court documents, Salisbury police believe Mikhael Sarkis, 50, of 6 Hofmann Lane, Lawrence, was drunk and had just finished his bartending shift at the private marina when he got behind the wheel of his Lincoln Town Car with two passengers and began driving toward Salisbury.

Sarkis entered the bridge in the wrong direction heading north in the southbound lane when he crashed into a Mercury Marquis driven by 20-year-old Salisbury resident Corey Burgess.

The crash killed Sarkis’ girlfriend, 41-year-old Donna Bergeron, and injured his other passenger, 62-year-old Clifford Pollard of Salisbury. Burgess was wearing a seat belt and escaped serious injury.

A search of the Lincoln Town Car resulted in the seizure of a plastic water bottle and a bottle of Sprite that police believe contained alcohol.

All four were transported to Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport where Bergeron was pronounced dead. Sarkis was eventually transferred to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

City Marshal Thomas Howard and ABCC spokeswoman Chandra Allard yesterday confirmed the two agencies were investigating the incident together but wouldn’t offer any details, with Allard adding her commission would not comment on the matter until the investigation was complete. Howard said it is unknown when the investigation would be concluded.

The North End Boat Club is a private, members-owned marina and social club that has been a part of the Newburyport waterfront for decades. It’s located off Merrimac Street, about a mile west of downtown Newburyport.

If the boat club is determined to have liability for overserving alcohol, police say it faces “significant exposure.”

According to court documents, Salisbury police officer Michael Tullercash conducted an interview with Pollard the day following the crash and was told that Pollard was waiting for Sarkis to finish his shift at the North End Boat Club so he could get a ride back home. Pollard told police he couldn’t recall whether Sarkis was drinking while on duty.

In a separate interview with Salisbury police officer James Leavitt, Pollard said Bergeron was Sarkis’ girlfriend and that he was well-versed in the area, adding there was no possible way he didn’t know where he was going. He said it was common practice for Sarkis to drive him back to his Beach Road address from the North End Boat Club.

Court documents also show that Sarkis consented to a blood alcohol analysis and two vials of his blood were obtained as samples.

Sarkis was arraigned Wednesday afternoon on one count of felony vehicular homicide and multiple drunken driving charges inside his hospital room. He is being held on $100,000 cash bail and is expected in Newburyport District Court on Jan. 30 for a pretrial hearing.

In addition to the vehicular homicide charge, Sarkis was arraigned on two counts of driving while under the influence of alcohol causing serious bodily injury, open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle, marked lanes and failure to wear a seat belt. Salisbury police Sgt. Robert Roy first issued the complaint against Sarkis at Newburyport District Court.

The North End Boat Club was last cited by the city’s own Liquor Licensing Commission back in 2001 for permitting an illegality on the licensed premises, a broad term that covers several different violations including over-serving patrons or serving liquor to a minor. As a result of the violation, the club’s liquor license was suspended one day.

A manager at the North Shore Boat Club yesterday declined to comment on the investigation or the incident when approached by a reporter.