A 39-foot cabin cruiser had just emerged from a narrow passage alongside Littlejohn Island when it hit a 14-foot skiff and killed its pilot.

Charles “Bill” Whetham, 63, a quiet, well-liked man who worked as a landscaper on Chebeague Island, where he lived for many years, was going home to the mainland in his skiff Friday when the crash occurred about 5:15 p.m.

The owner and pilot of the cabin cruiser, Richard Lemieux, slowed down and returned to the scene, as some of the people on board threw life jackets into the water, a witness said.

A boat operated by members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, uniformed volunteers who support the Coast Guard, was going in the same direction and was right behind the cabin cruiser when the crash occurred, authorities said. Crew members pulled Whetham aboard.

He was rushed to Maine Medical Center in Portland by ambulance, but was pronounced dead just after 6 p.m.

The Maine Marine Patrol is still piecing together what happened from witness statements and analysis of the extensive damage to the skiff, on the starboard side and toward the stern, said Sgt. Rob Beal of the marine patrol. There was no visible damage to the larger boat.

There are no signs that alcohol was a factor, but investigators took blood samples, as is required in all crashes with serious injury, Beal said.

The marine patrol brought the skiff to its facility in Scarborough for analysis. Beals said investigators did not feel a need to impound the 19-ton Sundancer.

Lemieux, who lists addresses in Scarborough and in Foxborough, Mass., could not be reached by telephone Sunday or Monday. He is vice chairman of the Maine Maritime Museum’s board of trustees.

The museum’s newsletter notes that he is a certified public accountant who has been a senior operations executive with Ernst & Young. After working as a managing partner for the firm’s office in New Jersey, he and his wife, Doris, sought to settle back in Maine, moving to Scarborough, a 2010 newsletter said.

It’s not clear where the cabin cruiser, named The Best, was coming from or going Friday. It was berthed in South Portland on Monday and lists Pine Point in Scarborough as its home port.

Investigators were on the water late Monday afternoon, checking the position of the sun relative to the position and heading of the boats, trying to determine whether the late-day sun might have made it hard for the boats’ operators to see.

Both boats were heading roughly southwest, with Whetham making for the landing at Cousins Island and the cabin cruiser headed toward Portland Harbor.

The tide was just 90 minutes past full, so Whetham could navigate a straight line over the shallows that protrude north from Chebeague Island and are marked by a red buoy not far from Littlejohn Island. His boat chugged along slowly, powered by a 10-horsepower motor, a friend said.

Whetham customarily sat to the right of the motor, friends said, which would have put him almost directly at the point of the collision, based on damage to the boat.

Whetham was conservative on the water and would not have taken a risk, his friends said.

The occupants of the cabin cruiser, eight in all, did not see the skiff, according to the marine patrol.

News of the crash spread quickly.

Darren Hillicoss, a captain for the Chebeague Transportation Co. and an island resident, was pulling away from the Cousins Island float, about 350 yards away, when he saw people on the blue cabin cruiser tossing life jackets into the water. As he approached to help, he recognized Whetham’s capsized skiff and told someone to call the man’s son and daughter, who live and work on Chebeague, Hillicoss said.

Hillicoss said he suspects that the sun might have played a role in obscuring the cabin cruiser pilot’s view.

“The sun was right above Cousins Island right there. It was kind of glassy calm and it was very glary,” said Hillicoss, who has worked the channel for 16 years. “At the red buoy, heading toward Portland, it’s right in your face.”

The Coast Guard Auxiliary boat’s crew had a clear view of the crash, Beals said. A spokesman for the Coast Guard said the crew would not be available and all information had to go through the Maine Marine Patrol.

Ron Tozier, Chebeague Island’s harbor master, said the narrow passage can get busy, especially in the summer. “That’s one thing we patrol, to try to slow down traffic,” he said.

Now that it’s past peak season, there are fewer boats there.

Tozier said there is no chance that Whetham was trying to make a daring move in front of the cabin cruiser in his small, slow boat.

“He’s not a kid. He wasn’t playing chicken,” Tozier said.

People on the stone wharf in front of the Chebeague Island Inn learned of the crash almost immediately and were distraught. Some had talked to Whetham just before he left.

“Everyone knows him. He worked for so many different people, touched so many lives,” said Donna Damon, a member of the Board of Selectmen and a town historian. “The whole community is devastated.”

Damon said that after their children were grown, Whetham and his wife, Dianne, moved to Brunswick. But they stayed part of the community.

Whetham continued to commute to Chebeague for much of the year to do his landscaping and lawn care business, taking his skiff to the island whenever the weather allowed it.

“They never really left, even though they lived in Brunswick,” Damon said.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]

CORRECTION: This article was updated at 2:20 p.m. on Tuesday, September 25, 2012 to correct the spelling of Sgt. Rob Beal and to clarify Mr. Whetham’s destination.


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