Maine Warden Service urges greater caution after at least 5 drownings this week

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Jun. 10—The Maine Warden Service is urging greater caution when swimming and boating after as many as five deaths by drowning have occurred in the state in recent days.

On Wednesday evening the warden service announced that it was searching for an Oregon man who may have drowned in Swan Lake in Swanville and could be the sixth person to have drowned in Maine since Sunday.

The warden service is especially concerned because the water in Maine's lakes, rivers and harbors is still cold despite a late spring heat wave that has led many people to seek relief from sweltering humidity and temperatures in the 90s. In addition, some of the people who drowned were inexperienced swimmers, said Lt. Jason Luce of the warden service.

"In four days we've had at least five drownings. It's way too many," Luce said. "We need to urge people to remember the water's cold this time of year, don't swim beyond your capabilities, and if you're on a boat, wear a life jacket."

Among the recent drowning incidents, Abiodun Jerry Roland Olubi, 38, of South Portland drowned in the Saco River on Sunday after he slipped off a rock outcrop at Pleasant Point Park in Buxton, a witness told police.

On Monday, Brandon Breton, 21, of Vassalboro, and Joseph Mayo, 19, of Rome, drowned while swimming with friends off a pontoon boat on Messalonskee Lake in Belgrade, the warden service said.

On Tuesday, 13-year-old Isha Ali of Lewiston died at Maine Medical Center in Portland after she was rescued Monday evening from the Cherry Pond area of the Androscoggin River in Greene, where she had been playing in the water with friends and family members.

And on Wednesday, the Maine Marine Patrol identified James Guptill, 34, as the shellfish harvester whose body was recovered Tuesday morning in coastal waters off Waldoboro, about a half-mile from where his empty skiff was found Monday evening. His body was taken to the Medical Examiner's Office in Augusta for an autopsy.

Also on Wednesday, game wardens were in Swanville using side-scan sonar to search for Christopher Friedrich, 41, of Springfield, Oregon, whose kayak was found floating upside down in Swan Lake on Sunday.

Luce noted that Sebago Lake was 55 degrees in recent days, but even warmer waters can disable experienced swimmers in an emergency situation.

"A lot of the waters in Maine are still cold, and within minutes you're going to become hypothermic and your body is going to shut down, no matter how good of a swimmer you are," Luce said, adding "It doesn't seem cold until you've been in it for a while."

State law requires watercraft to have one Coast Guard-approved floatation device for each person aboard the boat. Luce urged people to always wear life vests while boating and to tell people where they are going before heading out on the water.

"And don't overestimate your swimming ability," Luce said, recalling a former dive team member who said he had recovered many "good swimmers" from the bottoms of lakes.

Maine has recorded 11 drowning deaths statewide in all settings so far this year, according to the medical examiner's office. There were 43 in 2020, 32 in 2019 and 34 in 2018.

While wearing a life vest may seem like an inconvenience, Luce said it's a practice that has saved many lives through the decades.

They include two canoeists from Nitro, West Virginia, who were rescued in May after they capsized in high winds on Chamberlain Lake in northern Piscataquis County. Joshua Tinnel, 43, and Shawna Robinson, 51, were in the frigid water for over 90 minutes and likely would have drowned if they hadn't been wearing personal floatation devices, wardens said.

"We get grief from people sometimes for giving out tickets because they don't have life jackets," Luce said. "But until you've experienced searching for someone who has drowned or notifying family members, you probably don't understand the importance of it."