NEWBURYPORT — Less than two months after local police pulled him out of his burning car, an Amesbury man admitted to a judge he had been drinking before crashing into a stone wall near the front entrance to Moseley Pines park in late July. 

Benjamin Higgins, 26, of Elizabeth Street was charged with drunken driving, reckless operation of a motor vehicle, wanton destruction of property more than $1,200 and failing to keep right in a rotary, according to a police report.

On Thursday in Newburyport District Court, Higgins admitted he could be found guilty of drunken driving. The reckless operation and wanton destruction charges were dismissed.

He was found not responsible for the failing to keep right charge. When asked by Judge Peter Doyle where he had been drinking prior to the crash, Higgins identified a Newburyport bar. That prompted Doyle to continue the drunken driving charge without a finding for a year. 

As a result of his admission, Higgins lost his driver's license for 60 days and was ordered to remain alcohol free with random screens. He must also pay a monthly probation supervision fee and $600 in other fees and fines. 

Newburyport police Officer Schyler Reilly responded to the park, next to the Merrimac Street roundabout, about 1:10 a.m. on July 25 and saw smoke rising from Higgins’ car after it smashed into the wall. The car then burst into flames.

After calling firefighters, Reilly saw Higgins trying to get into the car’s back seat.

“I quickly ran over to the vehicle and grabbed the male party and removed him from the vehicle, along with bystanders who were also assisting. I advised everyone on scene to get to a safe distance back as the vehicle was completely engulfed in flames,” Reilly wrote in his report.

Newburyport firefighters quickly arrived and put out the fire before it spread. When speaking to Higgins, Reilly could smell alcohol on his breath, according to the officer’s report.

His eyes were bloodshot and glassy, his speech slurred and he was unsteady on his feet. Higgins, who was uninjured except for a cut on his face, told Reilly he had a few beers at a Newburyport restaurant and then stopped at a local bar for a few more, the report said.

“While waiting for the Newburyport Fire Department to extinguish the fire, I was able to see that Mr. Higgins had driven his vehicle from Merrimac Street, driving onto the curb and directly through the rotary kicking up dirt from the garden in the middle,” Reilly wrote in his report. “The vehicle had then continued straight through the rotary and crashed into the stone wall at the entrance on Moseley Pines.”

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