BETHEL, Maine — A local business owner and musician was killed Sunday in what police described as a freak accident as he attempted to clean a wood chipper.
Sam Chapman, 60, who owned Sam Chapman’s Tree Services on Mason Street, was cleaning the interior of a wood chipper on Elm Street when a metal protective shield came off and struck him in the chest, officials said.
Chief Deputy Hart Daley of the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office said Monday that Chapman suffered a chest wound and remained conscious and alert in the moments after the 10 a.m. accident but died before a LifeFlight medical helicopter could fly him to a hospital.
“He had been running wood chippers like that for years and years,” Daley said. “He knew what he was doing and how to stay safe. It was just one of those things that happens. It was absolutely a freak accident.”
According to Daley, the wood chipper, which was crafted to handle whole logs, contained a 5- or 6-foot-diameter wheel on the inside. The wheel was veiled by a metal protective shield about “3 feet by 3 feet” and shaped like a crescent moon, he said.
Chapman shut off the machine and went to remove the protective shield from the interior of the chipper when the shield caught on the wheel, which was still spinning, Daley said.
The shield struck Chapman’s chest, causing a puncture wound.
Oxford County Deputy Chris Davis, who was one of the officers on the scene, said Chapman was demonstrating how to use the wood chipper to two friends on Sunday morning when the accident occurred.
“He was going to let some friends borrow the wood chipper, and he was showing them how to use it and clean it,” Davis said.
Davis said that Chapman was conscious and aware of his surroundings in the moments after the accident.
“We transported him to Bryant Pond, where LifeFlight was going to meet up with us,” Davis said. “Unfortunately, while LifeFlight was en route, he passed away.”
Chapman was known not only for his business but also as an acclaimed musician who wrote and performed pop, rock, blues and country music, including a lot of original work.
Chapman regularly appeared at the Funky Red Barn in Bethel and was one of the featured artists at last year’s Bethel Harvestfest. Along with nearly a dozen other western Maine musicians, he participated in a benefit fundraiser at Gould Academy in Bethel last year to raise money to help fellow musician Donnie Katlin, who had suffered a heart attack.
He also regularly performed for residents of Ledgeview Living Center in West Paris, volunteering his time for the elderly.
According to Ross Timberlake, a fellow musician who has known Chapman since grade school, “Whenever asked, when there was a benefit for any cause, Sam would be the first to volunteer.”
A former Hank Williams impersonator who toured nationally with a ’50s-style band, Chapman was a multi-instrumentalist who would write songs for guitar, keyboard and harmonica.
“He was a passionate entertainer,” Timberlake said. “He loved to entertain.”
More than that, though, Timberlake said, he loved his two children.
“He was a proud father and he was a committed father,” Timberlake said. “He gave as much as he could to his children and I would have to say that, of all the things that I’m proud of him as a friend, that that was the one thing that I most admired about him. The children did not take a second seat to anything else. They were No. 1.”
Timberlake described Chapman as a hardworking man. “I guess that, next to his kids, probably his music was his most passionate thing.”
Chapman was a skilled songwriter, Timberlake said, and liked to write original songs for special events, including the 2003 wedding of Dave Hart and Rockie Graham held at the Bethel Transfer Station, where Hart worked as the station manager.
The wedding, featured on “Inside Edition,” included Chapman’s solo performance of that song.
Chapman’s friends say that, even though he had been part of numerous bands in the past, he always wanted to start another and it became a running joke among his fellow musicians. “But the rest of us,” Timberlake said, “we’re looking at our gray hairs. Been there. Done that. Don’t need to do that again.”
But not Chapman. He loved to write and loved to perform, Timberlake said. “Everyone who knew Sam had book-length stories about being around the guy. He was infectious.”
He was also kind.
Years ago, when Timberlake’s 21-year-old brother died in a car accident, “I think that Sam really kept me afloat,” Timberlake said. “He was very much a brother to me.”
Jewel Clark, who had known Chapman for more than 34 years, said, “It’s very much a cliche to say that he was one of a kind, but I dare say that without hesitation.”
A regular golfer at the Bethel Inn & Country Club, Chapman was once a professional cook in Florida and “wrote some of the most entertaining children’s songs” over the years, Clark said.
“He loved to laugh. He would laugh himself into tears sometimes,” Clark said, and “had great charisma. When he performed and wrote, it was from his heart.”
Clark and her husband, Rolly York, had performed dozens of times with Chapman and she described him as “so, so passionate about his music.”
Chapman recorded a CD and released a cassette, Clark said, and years ago moved to Nashville to work on his music, eventually returning to Maine. “He was extraordinarily talented,” Clark said, believing that people — including Chapman’s son Brady — will continue to play his music.
“I’ve never met anyone like him,” Clark said, praising his ability to collaborate with other musicians. “It’ll never be the same,” she said, “but I am totally confident that Sam Chapman will be orchestrating us from beyond as to who needs to be doing what. No doubts whatsoever.”
Sun journal managing editor Judith Meyer contributed to this report.