VASSALBORO — A black and yellow-striped canoe stood lodged upright between the wall of the dam at Outlet Stream and the rapids underneath Tuesday morning, a sign of the tragedy that unfolded the night before when a 5-year-old boy and his mother, both beloved by the community even after moving here just months ago, were thrown into the frigid waters.

The boy, William Egold, died later during the overnight at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor after suffering from severe hypothermia, according to the Maine Warden Service.

Tuesday morning, Ray Breton threw a grappling hook and, with three other men, freed the 16-foot canoe and got it onto dry land. The curved end of the canoe was cracked from dropping 10 feet over the dam and hitting the bottom of the stream.

It was the canoe that Mollie Egold, 25, was in with her 5-year-old son William on Monday evening before it went over the dam falls, overturned and they fell out. Both Mollie and her son were wearing life jackets, but a strong current of water met them on the other side.

“Last night, you know, you couldn’t sleep. It’s too much like my own kid,” Breton said, choking up as he talked beside the dam at Outlet Stream.

Martha Foster Collins, of Augusta, said in an interview Tuesday that Mollie is like her own daughter and she acts as her “second mother” even though they’re not related, and she considers William her only grandchild.

“William was a spectacular little boy; he was a knight in shining armor,” Collins recalled.

Collins described 5-year-old “Willie” as a special child who drew people to him with his big smile and “zest for life,” and the community of Vassalboro, where they had moved less than two months ago, was no different.

One man gave William a bike, employees at Ferris’ Variety gave him fishing equipment and Breton let him spend time with his horses.

“Everybody that met Willie fell in love with him. He was that kind of a child,” she said. “They all couldn’t do enough for Willie.”

SWIFT WATER

Breton, who has owned the Vassalboro park area for four years and provides striped canoes that people can use for free, said he was on the other side of the stream, opposite Route 32, training horses before the canoe accident occurred. He usually stays in the field into the evening, he said, but Monday evening he left early.

Twenty minutes later, the canoe was overturned in the dam.

When Breton saw the canoe later that evening, he thought some kids had let it flow downstream and left it there, so he called his friend who lives on Route 32.

“I asked him, ‘Who was in the black and yellow one?’ and he said that was William and his mom,” Breton said. “Right then, I knew.”

He drove down the street, just past The Olde Mill, and saw police cars and ambulances and game wardens. Mollie and William had floated down the stream in their life jackets to the mill about 1,000 feet away from the park across from Ferris’ Variety.

According to Breton’s friend who lives nearby, Mollie and her son were canoeing in the area for quite a while before the accident. They stuck close to the shoreline most of the time, Breton said, but then they appeared to go toward the middle.

According to a press release from the Maine Warden Service, “the water was swift and the canoe overturned, causing both to enter the water.”

William became trapped beneath the water against debris, according to Cpl. John MacDonald, spokesman for the warden service. His mother was able to free him from the debris and get him and herself out of the water and called for help, he said.

Warden officials did not know where William got stuck in debris or for how long the pair were in the frigid water Monday evening.

Law enforcement and first responders were dispatched to the stretch of the stream behind 960 Main St. shortly after 7:30 p.m. and performed life-saving measures.

William was taken to Inland Hospital in Waterville by ambulance shortly after 8 p.m., where he stayed for about four hours, District Game Warden Steven Couture said. He was then taken by LifeFlight helicopter to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

MacDonald said game wardens were told early Tuesday morning that William had died overnight. The Maine Warden Service is still investigating the incident, Couture said.

Collins said Mollie Egold was released from the hospital Monday night and is staying with her.

MORE CAUTIOUS

While Couture didn’t yet know the cause of death for William, he said at the park Tuesday that “hypothermia was definitely an issue.”

“We’re concerned about water temperature this time of year,” he said.

While he didn’t know the exact water temperature, the air temperature at the time was 50 degrees. The National Weather Service in Gray estimates most inland rivers and streams had water temperatures running in the 40-degree range Monday.

Mollie Egold suffered from hypothermia as well, Couture said.

Breton, who created the park so that kids in Vassalboro would have access to the water, puts out the canoes and life jackets for public use. The area isn’t policed all the time, he said, but when he or his friends are there they tell people to stay away from the buoys before the dam and that they have to wear life jackets.

Right before the waterfall and the dam, where the flow of the water picks up the pace, is a line of blue buoys. Breton filled in the water along that line so it’s only about 2 feet deep and people can stand there if they have to abandon their canoes.

Breton did not immediately return a call later in the day seeking comment on whether the accident will prompt any changes to the park such as new safety measures or signage.

There haven’t been any accidents at that part of the Outlet Stream since Breton has owned the property, he said, and the last one he could find on record was in the 1950s. In the past century, 32 people have died from drowning in the stream, he said.

A few weeks ago, Mike Switzer, who lives in an apartment above Ferris’ Variety, told Mollie that the canoes would be out soon, he said, and she seemed “ecstatic” about the idea.

What happened Monday night doesn’t make Switzer hesitate about taking his children out in the canoes, he said, though he will be more cautious.

“Accidents occur at any moment. You never know when they’re gonna happen,” he said.

‘OUR LITTLE MAN’

Collins said she got a call about the accident right after it happened.

“They did everything right. They had life jackets on,” she said. “Our whole family is just going to miss him incredibly.”

Switzer said he saw the Egolds nearly every day and was in shock over the boy’s sudden death.

Mollie would take her son to the park daily, he said, and Switzer would take his daughter to the park to fish with William at times.

“The kid would bring a smile to anybody’s face, no matter how bad a day you were having,” Switzer said. William had just caught his first fish the other day, he said, and made his mother show the picture to everyone he met.

When he heard about the incident, Switzer said it was a “complete shock.”

About the park, Switzer said, “(Breton) put a lot into building that up and making it safe for everybody.”

It was also shocking because Mollie and William are “absolutely loved by everybody in the community,” he said.

Breton, who has spent many years rebuilding parts of the community for public use, remembers William as the “cute little kid” who was always fishing or riding horses, always talking and smiling.

He was polite, Breton said, and wore little round glasses.

“Oh my God, he was our little man,” he said. “Everybody is so saddened.”

Collins said she’ll never get over the loss of her grandson, who was her “little angel.”

“Just treasure, treasure every split-second of every day you have with your children or your grandchildren,” she said. “Just treasure every moment, because in a split-second they’re gone.”

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour