BEVERLY — A Beverly father is being held without bail at a state hospital after police say he crashed his family minivan into a utility pole while driving drunk with his 2-year-old son in the car Saturday afternoon.
A shaky and ruddy-faced Dana Kessel, 40, of 10 Frankwood Ave. pleaded not guilty to third-offense drunken driving, child endangerment and driving to endanger during his arraignment yesterday morning in Salem District Court.
Meanwhile, his 2-year-old son, Darren, is recovering from injuries, including a head wound and internal bruising, sustained when he flew, unrestrained, between the front seats and struck the dashboard of the car.
One witness, who was forced to swerve onto a sidewalk on McPherson Drive to avoid being struck by the oncoming minivan, said yesterday that she at first thought the driver was having a heart attack.
Judi Michaud, 55, of Beverly had just pulled out of the Stop & Shop parking lot when she saw the minivan swerving into her lane. Seconds later, she saw the crash.
“I asked if he was OK, and he just shook his head,” Michaud said. “Then I heard a child crying. Once he opened the van door, I saw the child between the two front seats.”
Kessel didn’t seem to be responding to the child’s crying.
Michaud thought he was simply in shock from the crash, but another driver who had stopped suspected that Kessel was drunk. Richard Swiniuch Jr. took the child and tried to comfort him.
Kessel “kept wanting to leave,” Michaud said. “But your son, look at your son,” she said she told him. The boy was bleeding from a wound on his head, his nose and his mouth, and was crying hysterically.
Kessel kept refusing medical assistance for himself, police said in a report, and asked Patrolman Darlene Prinz, “Can you just let me take my son home, or my wife is going to kill me.”
Kessel’s wife, Maureen, was attending a wedding in Vermont.
The boy was taken to Beverly Hospital, and Kessel was taken to the Beverly police station, where he mentioned a second son, 4-year-old Brian, and suggested that he had also been in the minivan and “is probably lost right now.” That set off a frantic search for the boy, who, as it turns out, had gone home with Kessel’s friend.
Police said Kessel, two of his three sons, and another man named Todd Titus, 38, of Beverly, had gone to the Bowl-O-Mat on River Street. The two men had also been seen drinking beers and shots at the River Street Grille, next door to the bowling alley.
Kessel’s oldest child, 6, was attending a birthday party at the home of a friend.
Kessel told police he had two Coors Light beers and a glass of Southern Comfort at the restaurant.
He said the accident occurred because he “looked down.”
Kessel agreed to take a Breathalyzer exam, which showed an initial reading of .21, which is more than 21/2 times the legal limit of .08. However, he was unable to complete the exam, which requires a total of three samples. Then, police said, he told officers, “You can’t prove anything, so I can go now.”
Police said that throughout the booking process Kessel showed “a complete lack of concern or understanding of the seriousness of the situation with one child in the hospital and one child unaccounted for.”
“Right now, he’s frightened, he’s scared and he’s embarrassed by the charges,” Kessel’s lawyer, Robert Weiner, said outside of court yesterday.
Weiner said Kessel and his wife have been married seven years and have three children.
Kessel’s family, including his wife, left court without commenting, but Weiner said his client has their support.
“He does face the fact that he has an alcohol problem,” said Weiner, who asked Judge Robert Brennan to send Kessel to the Massachusetts substance abuse treatment center, located on the grounds of Bridgewater State Hospital.
Prosecutor Lisa Core, meanwhile, filed a request that Kessel be held without bail pending a hearing into whether his release poses a danger to the public.
Kessel will be hospitalized for 30 days and will be back in court Nov. 16 for a dangerousness hearing.
The drunken-driving arrest, Kessel’s third, is the first one since 2000, when he was arrested in Swampscott and later found guilty. He was also found guilty of a drunken-driving charge in Wakefield in 1997, according to his driving record.
That driving record shows Kessel had four surchargeable accidents, crashes where he was deemed to be at fault, between 1988 and 1996, in addition to the drunken driving cases. But he had a mostly clean driving history for a decade before his arrest Saturday, aside from a civil citation for failing to stop for a signal or sign in 2008.
Weiner declined to comment on whether family members had any concerns about leaving the children alone with Kessel for the weekend.
Police have seized Kessel’s license as a result of the incomplete Breathalyzer test.
If convicted, Kessel faces a minimum mandatory 150 days in jail and will lose his license for eight years.