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Pilot had beers, police say

Marshfield man charged in boat accident; 1 feared dead

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By Laura J. Nelson
Globe Correspondent / July 19, 2011

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PLYMOUTH - A Marshfield man told authorities he drank 10 beers before getting behind the wheel of his boat but was only “a little buzzed’’ when his best friend fell overboard and apparently drowned off Marshfield Saturday night.

Justin McDonald, 22, appeared yesterday in Plymouth District Court and pleaded not guilty to charges of operating a boat under the influence of alcohol. His next court appearance is Sept. 15, and his bail is set at $10,000 cash.

As McDonald appeared before District Court Judge John Julian, divers and rescue boats crisscrossed the steely waters off Brant Rock Beach in Marshfield on the third day of what began as a rescue mission, but has now become a search for the body of Steven Zachary Woods, 23, of Marshfield. Eight Marshfield Fire Department divers in wet suits struggled with decreasing visibility as a light rain began to fall and clouds massed on the horizon.

“On day three, this is about finding closure for the family,’’ said Anthony Boccuzzo, a diver with the Marshfield Fire Department. The Fire Department divers are coordinating with rescue workers from the Massachusetts State Police, the US Coast Guard, and the Marshfield harbormaster.

Saturday’s outing had begun with an afternoon of beer and barbecue at the Spit, an isolated strip of beach in Scituate. At sundown, McDonald headed home with Woods in a 20-foot pleasure boat belonging to McDonald’s father, according to a Marshfield police report filed in court. About 1,000 feet off Brant Rock Beach, the boat lurched and heaved both men overboard.

McDonald said that when he surfaced, he saw his backpack and Woods floating near the unmanned, circling boat. McDonald said he called out to Woods before going under the water for about a minute. He said he did not swim closer to Woods because he feared being hurt by the boat’s propeller.

Woods had disappeared by the time McDonald resurfaced, the report said.

Prosecutors told the judge that when McDonald was rescued and arrested Saturday night, he showed “no remorse and very little concern’’ for Woods, whom authorities described as McDonald’s best friend. Both graduated from Marshfield High School, Woods in 2006, McDonald in 2007.

In his senior biography in the Marshfield High School yearbook, Woods wrote that he wanted to become a member of the US Coast Guard.

During the arraignment, McDonald, who lives on Jersey Street in Marshfield, stood with his brow knit, biting his lip, speaking only once, as he accepted the terms of his bail.

Woods’s family declined to comment. Cars crowded the street near the Woods family home, which stands less than 100 feet from a wall overlooking the water where the 23-year-old disappeared. Friends and relatives stood in silent groups, hugging and watching Fire Department boats on the waves.

Police found an empty 18-pack of Coors Light beer in the boat’s center console, an open can of Jeremiah Weed malt liquor by the steering wheel, and two coolers onboard, one full of empty beer cans, the other with unopened beer, Plymouth County prosecutor Douglas Humphrey said in court.

When authorities boarded the boat, the key was in the ignition but the engine was not running, the report said.

McDonald told police he had 10 beers while at the Spit and was “a little buzzed, but pretty good . . . not drunk,’’ the report said. Deputies said that his eyes were glassy and bloodshot and that he refused a breath alcohol test at the Marshfield police station.

The report said McDonald and Woods were the only people on the boat when the accident occurred.

McDonald told authorities that the boat was going too fast for him to have been drinking while aboard. He said he did not know if Woods was drinking alcohol during the day.

McDonald was arrested in 2006 and 2007 for possessing alcohol as a minor, according to Plymouth District Court records. Both charges were dismissed.

The Marshfield incident was one of several marine accidents over the weekend that kept public safety agencies busy.

A boater died in Boston Harbor Saturday evening when his 27-foot speedboat capsized and broke up off Boston Light, seriously injuring his companion, authorities said.

A strong wave or wake from another vessel flipped the boat as it sped through the harbor about 6:15 p.m., authorities said.

John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Laura J. Nelson can be reached at lnelson@globe.com.