Boat driver admitted drinking before crash that ejected friend, prosecutors say
A 25-year-old man charged with boating while intoxicated in a crash Monday on the Great South Bay that left his childhood friend "lost at sea" admitted having "a few drinks" that evening, and was unsteady, had bloodshot eyes and smelled of alcohol, authorities said Tuesday.
Jack Benjamin, 25, of Farmingville, was driving the craft in the waters by Sayville when it collided with a jetty, and his friend, Nelson Matos, also 25, was ejected overboard.
Tuesday afternoon, Suffolk police reported that a body had been recovered from the waters off Sayville, but the person had not yet been positively identified.
Benjamin, who according to his attorney had contusions, lacerations and bruising as a result of the crash, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Tuesday afternoon and was released after posting bail.
Benjamin’s lawyer, William Keahon, called the crash a "tragedy" and said his client and Matos, of Farmingville. had attended school together beginning in kindergarten.
"We should all ask everybody [to] just say prayers for the family and that young man," Keahon said after the arraignment.
Benjamin had refused to have his blood drawn for an alcohol analysis after the crash, according to a misdemeanor information filed in First District Court in Central Islip.
But authorities obtained a warrant and got his blood sample at 7:31 a.m. — about six hours after the collision, according to court documents. The results are pending.
Benjamin told police, according to the court documents, that "he had a few drinks that evening and was driving everybody home."
Bail was set Tuesday morning at $50,000 cash, $100,000 bond or a $200,000 partially secured bond, according to Sheila Kelly, a spokeswoman for the Suffolk County district attorney's office.
Benjamin was released from custody later Tuesday and said nothing as he walked out of court in Central Islip. His father, Barry Benjamin, in very brief comments, said, "I feel sorry for the kid."
Matos was labeled in court documents as "a passenger lost at sea who is presumed to be dead."
Benjamin was operating a 2003 Parker center console boat at 1:23 a.m. Monday when it struck one of the jetties at the end of Browns River Road, police said.
Matos, who was not wearing a life jacket, was thrown overboard, police said.
Benjamin and a female passenger were taken to South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore, where they were treated for injuries and released. Three other passengers escaped injury, police said.
Thomas Maglaras, who described his relationship with Matos as "best friends forever," said he drove from his home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, upon hearing about the crash.
Maglaras, speaking to a reporter on the shores of the bay Tuesday, described Matos as "such a great kid, smart, strong, strong as a bull, you know. He was a great kid. Everyone that knew him loved him, you know. He was amazing."
Matos worked in construction on the East End with his father, according to Maglaras, who said he also knows Benjamin, though the two aren't as close.
"He’s the most least deserving person for this to happen to, you know," said Maglaras, referring to Matos. "But this was an accident. I’m not blaming anyone."
He added: "I feel for Jack right now, for sure. I feel bad for Jack. He’s a good kid, too."
With Cecilia Dowd