WISCASSET, Maine — A South Bristol man has been charged with filing a false public alarm or report in connection with a Jan. 17 phone call that triggered a full-scale search for a sailboat in distress. Searchers never found any evidence of a sailboat.
John D. Norwood, 36, pleaded not guilty to the charge at a Feb. 26 arraignment, according to court records. He is scheduled to appear in Lincoln County District Court on April 10.
Early the morning of Jan. 17, the U.S. Coast Guard, Maine Marine Patrol, and local law enforcement and fire departments launched a full-scale search off Pemaquid Neck after a man calling on a cellphone reported seeing a sailboat that was taking on water and occupants in distress.
The man reported receiving a cellphone call from a person he knew telling him the boat was taking on water. U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Brian Gilda said at the time that officials received “a couple variations of the story,” but that the man said two or three people were on board, one may have attempted to swim to shore, and the sailors “could have been a father-son team moving a vessel” to Maine from Massachusetts.
After a 10-hour search that spanned 680 square nautical miles from Cape Small to Muscongus Bay to Monhegan Island and included a Coast Guard plane and helicopter, along with several boats, the Coast Guard called off the search — but declined to label it a hoax.
However, DMR spokesman Jeff Nichols said after the search that no additional information about the allegedly distressed boat was ever reported.
Norwood was charged Feb. 7 by the Department of Marine Resources with the Class D misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail.
Prosecutors have requested a psychological evaluation for Norwood, and have raised questions about his mental health, according to court records.
“There are significant concerns about his culpability and his competency,” Lincoln County Assistant District attorney Andrew Wright said Thursday.
Norwood’s attorney, David Paris, had no comment on Thursday.
Wright said the state would not seek restitution if Norwood is deemed not competent or criminally responsible.
“Part of this is that there were significant resources and people brought out during the search,” he said. “We’re obviously very concerned that people could have been endangered with the freezing cold water, and searching for something that wasn’t there. Whether he falsely reported it because he truly believed it or because of mental illness, that’s what we have to look into with a forensic evaluation.”
Wright said the Department of Marine Resources continues to compile the total cost of the search, which included a Coast Guard helicopter and small propeller plane from Cape Cod, as well as a 47-foot boat. The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and fire departments from Bristol, South Bristol and Bremen, along with boats from the Maine Marine Patrol and seven local fishing boats, also participated.
Gilda said at the time that the search likely cost in excess of $100,000.