March 13, 2010

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DIANA BOWLEY

— By

Bangor Daily News

BOWERBANK — The body of Robert Pomeroy, who drowned over the weekend, was recovered Monday morning in First Buttermilk Pond.

Pomeroy and three other men from Dover-Foxcroft were thrown into the water when their boat capsized Saturday afternoon.

Warden diver Irene Yaws -- who Saturday found the body of James ''Jim'' Brown, English department head at Foxcroft Academy -- also found the body of Pomeroy, owner of Rowell's Garage.

Pomeroy's body was recovered about 10:50 a.m. within 50 feet of shore in about 6 feet of water, according to Warden Lt. Pat Dorian of the Maine Warden Service.

Two other men, Kevin Stitham, a district court judge, and David Perkins, a local businessman, survived. They tried to find Brown and Pomeroy without success.

Pomeroy's death is the eighth drowning in the state this year, according to Al Johnson, First Coast Guard District recreational boating specialist in Boston.

Coincidentally, last year at this time, four men in Mt. Chase Township were tossed into the water when their boat capsized and the same warden service divers were called out to search for a drowning victim in that incident, Dorian said. Those men also had been staying in a camp at a remote pond and one of them was a judge, he said.

As in that earlier case, it was difficult for wardens to get equipment to First Buttermilk Pond, Dorian said.

''We had to cut a trail down to the pond to get a boat to it. We didn't have adequate watercraft on the lake to do what we needed to do safely,'' he said.

Two boats and equipment were carried in by wardens and by Bowerbank firefighters, many of whom knew the four men.

''Emotionally, it's been very difficult for everybody involved in it, especially those who were close to these gentlemen,'' Dorian said.

As a matter of routine, blood tests were conducted on the bodies of the two victims but results will not be available until later this month, he said.

Dorian said Monday that the four men had been staying at Stitham's camp on the pond while they were hunting in the area.

After two men in the party returned from hunting Saturday afternoon, the group took off in Stitham's 12-foot V-hull Duratech boat to visit friends across the pond.

Midway across the south side of the pond, Stitham, who was in the bow, noticed water around his ankles and told Pomeroy, who was steering the motor, to head for shore, Dorian said.

''Unfortunately, the boat was not adequate for four adult males, weightwise, and they were not wearing life jackets,'' Dorian said. ''Within a very short time, they were all in the water.''

Once the men were in the water, Stitham, Pomeroy and Brown grabbed life jackets and decided to swim to shore. Perkins chose to stay behind with the capsized boat, Dorian said.

Stitham swam to a part of the shore where he knew there would be a boat, crawled onto the shore and shoved a rowboat into the water, according to Dorian.

After Stitham rowed out to rescue Perkins, the pair shouted for Brown and Pomeroy.

After seeing no sign of them, and fighting off the cold -- water temperature was 46 degrees -- the two men rowed to Stitham's camp, where they changed into warm and dry clothing, Dorian said.

They then returned in the rowboat to search again for their friends. When Pomeroy and Brown did not respond to their shouts, Stitham and Perkins rowed back to Stitham's camp, climbed into a vehicle and headed to an area where they could get cell phone coverage to call 911, according to the warden. That call was made about 8:20 p.m.

Warden diver Yaws was in a boat looking down into the water when she spotted Pomeroy's body Monday, Dorian said. Because Pomeroy had been wearing dark clothing, his body was not visible from the air, he said.

Seventeen members of the warden service, including the divers, assisted during the search. Although the service faces budget cuts, Dorian said it is hard to place a value on these specialty teams in a case like this.

''Due to the complexities of this recovery mission, particularly the remoteness of the location, the Maine Warden Service Aviation Division has proven critical in providing the necessary support and safety to all of our wardens and divers who are searching in tough conditions to return these loved ones to their families,'' Col. Joel Wilkinson, chief of the Maine Warden Service, said in a statement.

''By shuttling gear and personnel, the aviation division provides a timely way out for any of our divers that may encounter a medical issue and need immediate care,'' Wilkinson said. ''We are fortunate to have highly trained professionals that are committed and dedicated to this mission and every mission in which we are called upon to serve.''

The Coast Guard's Johnson said cases like this wouldn't happen if people were to assess the risks and act appropriately.

''Anyone contemplating going out into a boat at this time of year should assess the risks, realistically look at what could happen, what could go wrong and be prepared for it. The best thing you could do is wear a life jacket.''

''A person has a 50 percent chance of swimming 50 yards in 50-degree water (when wearing a life jacket),'' according to Johnson. ''The shock of sudden immersion is debilitating, you know, it saps your strength immediately, plus you're gasping, hyperventilating and on top of it you're panicking; it really is essential at that time to be wearing a life jacket.

''They would have adjusted to the water temperature within one to three minutes and then have a period of about two to 10 minutes of useful function ... they would have been floating so they would have survived,'' Johnson said.

A memorial service for Brown is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday at Foxcroft Academy. No date has been set for Pomeroy's service.

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