SALEM — Prosecutors say it was a rescue off a boat that may have been about to sink.
But Bradford Billings Smith’s attorney argued yesterday that it was an illegal “exit order,” made by a harbormaster who fully intended to charge his client with drunken driving.
Smith, 43, is facing a charge of drunken boating after running “hard aground” on Lobster Rock last July. With two prior drunken driving convictions, the stakes are high for Smith, of 45 Memorial Drive, Salem, who is facing a minimum mandatory 150 days in jail if convicted.
Smith is scheduled to stand trial on May 20.
But yesterday his attorney, Mark Barry, argued that much of the evidence in the case against Smith is tainted by what he contends is the illegal removal of Smith from his 26-foot Seaway motorboat, followed by questioning by the harbormaster, his assistant and an Environmental Police officer.
Because of that, he argued, it should not be used against Smith at trial.
“They wanted him off that boat because they were going to charge him,” said Barry, who suggested that there was no basis for the officials to arrest his client at that point.
Not so, suggested Salem Harbormaster Bill McHugh, who had responded to a call from his Beverly counterpart about a motorboat careening around the inner harbor and sideswiping a sailboat that was moored near Salem.
The boat was nearly entirely out of the water, McHugh testified, as Smith continued trying to back off of the rocks, which had emerged during low tide.
“He wanted a tow rope,” McHugh testified. “You gotta tow me off here, throw me a line,” McHugh quoted Smith as saying.
But with no idea whether the boat had been damaged, McHugh said, that was not an option. Nor was leaving Smith on the boat.
With the tide going out, it was fast becoming a safety issue, not only for Smith but for McHugh and assistant harbormaster Jim Dunn, a retired police chief.