CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – Two nuclear submarine sailors, including one assigned to help crewmates stay out of trouble, are accused of brutally beating a man, leaving him near death on a Portsmouth street and then trying to orchestrate a cover-up.

One of the accused crew members of the USS Greeneville was on duty at the time and driving a Navy “safe-ride” van, a shuttle service that picks up sailors, including those who might have had too much to drink while off duty.

In court Thursday, Seamen Gerald Smith, 22, of Honolulu, and Sandy Portobanco, 23, of Inglewood, Ca., did not contest that police had probable cause to arrest them in the beating of Stephen Huntress, a former town councilor in bordering Kittery, Maine.

“They beat him to the point where he was unresponsive and they left him for dead,” said Portsmouth Police Lt. Corey MacDonald.

Huntress suffered major injuries including skull fractures, officials said; his condition has improved, but there is no word on his potential long-term injuries.

Smith drove the van late May 22 from the shipyard in Kittery, where the Greeneville is docked for an overhaul, to Portsmouth and picked up Portobanco, who had been drinking in a bar.

Huntress was walking by and said something to the Navy men, MacDonald said. The sailors reported he insulted the Navy, MacDonald said, but have not been able to interview Huntress, who is still hospitalized.

According to investigators, Smith got out, provoked Huntress into a fight and began hitting him in the head.

Portobanco joined in, MacDonald said, “to the point where both of them are punching, kicking, kneeing, striking him with elbows.”

“He’s on the ground and they continue this while he is clearly no longer able to defend himself, eventually leaving him unconscious,” he said.

Smith brought himself to the attention of police a short while later by reporting that someone yelled at the van and threw something that cracked the windshield. He reported that he drove away immediately.

The story unraveled, police said, after officers interviewed Smith, Portobanco and a witness.

Smith and Portobanco are being held on $200,000 bail, charged with assault and witness tampering.

Smith is a yeoman/seaman, an administrative assistant on the Greeneville, said Lt. Patrick Evans, at the submarine base in Groton, Ct. His duties include paperwork, work schedules, answering phones or sorting mail.

Portobanco is a storekeeper/seaman, who helps manage and distribute supplies.

They remain on active duty but are no longer are assigned to the Greeneville, which has been undergoing overhaul at the shipyard since December 2007.

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