LITCHFIELD, Conn. (AP) – A state judge on Wednesday dismissed a drunken boating charge against the operator of a paddle wheel boat that capsized on Bantam Lake with 20 passengers aboard last month.

Superior Court Judge Paul Matasavage said 47-year-old Julian Scott Morris, who lives in the town of Morris, should never have been charged with a crime. Authorities say a urine test showed that Morris was not under the influence of alcohol.

“I don’t understand why they just didn’t just let him go after he passed the breathalyzer test that day,” Matasavage said. “It’s unfortunate when some poor guy gets disparaged and there is nothing there. It’s not right.”

None of the passengers were seriously hurt when the boat capsized in a sudden thunderstorm on June 14. Some of them said Morris did not appear impaired at the time.

State Department of Environmental Protection police arrested Morris.

State Prosecutor Andrew M. Wittstein, who requested that the charge be dismissed, criticized the DEP for publicly announcing that Morris’ drinking was a factor in the mishap.

“He wasn’t under the influence at all and they shouldn’t have said that,” Wittstein said.

Morris told the Republican-American of Waterbury that he is relieved that the charge was thrown out. He declined to say whether he planned a lawsuit.

DEP spokesman Dennis Schain told The Associated Press later in the day that the agency believes its officers acted properly, because Morris failed a field sobriety test at the scene.

“Based on our officers’ assessment of the scene and the assessment of the field sobriety test, we believe there was probable cause to charge him,” Schain said. “While we respect the opinion of the court, our officers acted in a proper and professional manner.”

Morris’ boat, a riverboat replica, went down about 100 yards from shore in 15-foot-deep water during strong winds that developed during the thunderstorm, authorities said.

In an article on the American Sternwheel Association’s Web site, Morris wrote that he bought the Jubilee in 2000 with the thought of giving rides on Bantam Lake, where he has lived all his life.

Morris wrote that he and his wife have given rides to more than 1,200 people, including former Gov. John G. Rowland and local senior citizens. He said several rides on the Jubilee have been raffled off to raise money for a local hospice.


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