EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 16, 2013

Newburyport club loses liquor license

ABCC suspends alcohol activity as fatal probe continues

By Sonya Vartabedian
Staff Writer

---- — NEWBURYPORT — The North End Boat Club’s liquor license has been indefinitely suspended in the wake of a fatal New Year’s Eve accident involving the Newburyport social club and marina off Merrimac Street.

In a ruling handed down Thursday, the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission found the boat club on Manson Avenue 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.

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 featuring live music. The accident occurred just 1 mile from the club.

Notice of the ABCC’s ruling to suspend the club’s liquor license was hand-delivered to the venue Thursday night by the agency’s investigator, Caroline Guarino-Wilichoski, and Newburyport city Marshal Thomas Howard.

“We’re looking for the club to be forthcoming in regards to our investigation into whether or not the club was involved in over-serving on the night of Dec. 31,” Howard said yesterday.

The ABCC ruling immediately prohibits North End Boat Club from selling, displaying or giving away alcohol. The club has 30 days to appeal the decision to the state superior court, if it chooses.

No one from the boat club could be reached for comment yesterday. A call there yesterday afternoon went unanswered. The club and its parking lot were empty last night and a sign on the door read, “Closed ‘til further notice.”

The order comes following a Jan. 29 public hearing conducted by a panel of ABCC commissioners at the agency’s Boston offices.

Howard said the club is still welcome to open, but it cannot allow any activity involving alcohol.

“They have a license to serve food, for entertainment,” Howard said. “They can physically open and continue to do business if they wish. ... They just can’t do anything with alcohol while they are under suspension.”

In addition to two counts of hindering or delaying the investigation, North End Boat Club was charged with:

Permitting an illegality regarding a change of officers and directors in the corporation for the years 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2011.

Failing to file the names and addresses of corporate officers with the commission since 1985.

Two counts of failing to have a fire and building safety checklist (on Dec. 31 and again Jan. 2).

Two counts of failing to designate a crowd manager as required under the emergency planning and preparedness regulations.

“There are a number of things they were found guilty of, including paperwork and reporting,” Howard said. “They need to fix all violations. Then, they could apply to the local licensing commission to have the license returned to them.”

Police and ABCC investigators have said manager Michael Rurak, whose name is on the club’s liquor license, has refused to answer questions based on what he has said is the advice of legal counsel and has not turned over requested documentation. At the hearing, Rurak admitted the club violated the four paperwork and procedural statutes, but remained defiant on the hindering or delaying charge.

Howard said the Newburyport Police Department’s investigation is focused only on the possibility that the club was in violation of over-serving on Dec. 31 and whether that may have had anything to do with the fatal accident.

Because the crash occurred in Salisbury, that investigation is being pursued by the Police Department there, Howard said.

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

A pretrial hearing for Sarkis that was scheduled for late last month in Newburyport District Court was postponed until Feb. 28. Sarkis, who spent several weeks in a Boston-area hospital recovering from injuries, is being held on $100,000 cash bail.

Located west of downtown Newburyport, North End Boat Club has been part of the waterfront scene for decades.

Howard is hopeful officials of the boat club and other patrons who attended the New Year’s Eve party there will come forward with information that may help them piece together the puzzle leading up to the crash.

“We want to finish our investigation and some of that investigation rests with them. We want the rest of the information,” he said. “We suspect there were people at the club who would be willing to share information as to the sobriety of patrons at the club.”

Howard said those at the club on Thursday when he arrived to present the license suspension order were very cooperative. But he added there was no discussion regarding their plans in response to the order.

“The ball is in their court to do what they need to do to try to rectify this,” Howard said.