BOWERBANK, Maine — Word spread quickly this past weekend when four well-known men, lifelong friends, were thrown from a boat into the cold water of a local pond, and two did not make it to shore.
The body of veteran Foxcroft Academy English teacher James “Jim” Brown was recovered from First Buttermilk Pond on Sunday afternoon after the small boat he was traveling in the day before with his friends took on water and overturned.
The search continues for Robert Pomeroy, owner of Rowell’s Garage, who went into the cold water when the boat flipped. It’s believed that he and Brown both drowned.
Two other men, Kevin Stitham, 56, a 13th District Court judge, and David Perkins, 50, a local businessman, were able to make it to the banks of the pond after the boat sank at around 4:15 p.m. Saturday, but Brown, 57, and Pomeroy, 56, never made it to shore.
“There is no doubt that this is going to have a huge emotional impact on the Dover-Foxcroft community,” Lt. Pat Dorian of the Maine Warden Service, said by phone on Sunday. “They were all well-known and well-liked people.”
The four are lifelong friends from Dover-Foxcroft who were staying at the Stitham family hunting camp, located on the northern side of the pond.
“They decided to go across the pond to visit friends,” he said.
Their vessel, a 12-foot V-hull Duratech, began taking on water soon after leaving the camp. Stitham noticed the water and told Pomeroy, who reportedly was steering the boat, to head to shore, Dorian said, but, “within a matter of seconds, the boat capsized,” throwing all four into the water, which had a temperature in the low-50s.
Perkins stayed with the overturned boat and the others took lifejackets and attempted to swim to shore. It’s believed that only Stitham made it.
“He crawled up the shore,” Dorian said. Then “headed in the direction of a camp where he knew they had a boat.”
He found a rowboat and returned to the scene and found Perkins. The two, both suffering from hypothermia, searched the area for their friends, yelling their names, to no avail.
“They were both very hypothermic,” Dorian said. “They went back to the camp, changed clothes, and went back out looking for their friends.” After a while of searching, “they went to one of the vehicles, and drove out to where they could get cell phone service.”
The Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department got the call at 8:20 p.m. and dispatched a half-dozen game wardens to the area. In the dark, search dogs hunted the edge of the water for signs of the two missing men.
By morning, 15 game wardens, a Maine State Police trooper, Piscataquis sheriff deputies and a fixed-wing plane were scouring the waters and the shoreline, along with members of the Bowerbank and Milo fire departments. Seven divers were in the water.
The men were at the camp hunting, Dorian said, adding that he believes the boat may have been carrying too much weight.
“With four large adult males I would consider it to be overloaded,” he said. “We don’t know why it began taking on water, but obviously there was something wrong. That’s a lot of weight for a 12-foot boat.”
The decision not to wear life vests and the chilly temperatures hindered the men once they got into the water, Dorian said.
“A person has extreme difficulty lasting any length of time in that temperature water,” he said.
Brown was head of the English Department at Foxcroft Academy, where he taught for 34 years, and he was involved with the Thompson Free Library and the town’s historic society, retired teacher David Lockwood said Sunday. He also was a husband, father of two and a grandfather.
He was “a good man,” Lockwood said. “He was very active in affairs” of the town and school.
Lockwood said he got to know Brown and Stitham as a first-year teacher.
“When I first came to Dover I had them in eighth grade,” he said. “It was my first class. Stitham and James Brown were in the same class, and graduated from Foxcroft Academy together.”
He added, “The family is lovely. They’re just beautiful people. I feel particularly sad for [his wife] Barbara. It will be a great loss for her … and the community.”
Visiting the hunting camp was a regular activity for the four friends.
“I can tell you, they went there on a regular basis,” Lockwood said. “They would go fishing and camping and spend time there just on the weekends.”
School has not been canceled, but councilors will be on hand for students and teachers who are grieving, Ray Webb, head of the school, said.
“We’re going to try and have some sense of normalcy” for the students, he said. “He’s been the English Department chair for longer than anyone can remember. There is probably not a more beloved person on the faculty.”
Webb described Brown as a local boy who graduated from the high school in 1970, went away to college at the University of Maine and returned to town to teach and raise his family.
“It’s really a tragedy for a small town like this,” he said.
Pomeroy served for years on the Hospital Administrative District 4 board of directors, and took over ownership of the garage when his father-in-law died.
“All four of these men are well-known members of the Dover-Foxcroft community,” Dorian said. “It’s very unfortunate.”