May 23, 2018
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Father and son, 7, drown in Ripley at mother’s birthday party

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

RIPLEY, Maine — A 42-year-old father and his 7-year-old son drowned fully clothed in Main Stream during a birthday party off Chandler Hill Road on Sunday with another half-dozen family members also in the water, state police say.

Christopher Zoeller and son Bravin Zoeller were pronounced dead at Mayo Regional Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft after the 4 p.m. incident at their home, where they and other family members had been celebrating the birthday of Christopher Zoeller’s wife, Stephanie, Troop C state police Sgt. Vicki Gardner said.

The two decided to cool off in the stream during the party and they were together when they disappeared, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Public Safety Department.

Another member of the birthday party who had also been in the water while carrying an infant went to shore and when that person turned around the two Zoellers were gone, he said.

“The water is still extremely cold this time of year,” McCausland said.

“They got out too far and obviously the clothing weighed them down.”

It took rescue workers wearing wet suits about 30 minutes to locate the bodies in 3 to 6 feet of water.

McCausland said the cold water and the weight of the victims’ clothes contributed to their deaths.

“It is still May — water temperatures could have been a factor,” Gardner said early Monday. “The currents did not seem to be excessively strong, and they were fully clothed.”

Autopsies at the state Medical Examiner’s Office in Farmington are scheduled for Tuesday, Gardner said.

The incident was reported at about 4 p.m., Gardner said, and local firefighters and emergency medical technicians were able to pull the man and boy from the river.

A dozen people attended the birthday party, and of that group, five or six went into the water, Gardner said.

Chandler Hill is about three miles west of Route 23 and about a mile from the Penobscot-Somerset County line.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Correction: An early version of this story gave the incorrect age for Christopher Zoeller. He was 42.

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