WINTER HARBOR – A single-vehicle fire in the parking lot of the town dock claimed the life of a local lobsterman early Saturday, hours after he had taken his boat out of the water for the season.
The body of James Arnett, 21, was found in his pickup truck, burned beyond recognition, according to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety.
He said the accident occurred about 4 a.m. Saturday.
McCausland said that two of the state’s fire marshals went to the accident scene to assist the Winter Harbor Police Department. The fire marshals’ investigation into the cause of the blaze was to continue today.
Arnett’s body was taken to Augusta for an autopsy, scheduled today, by the state Medical Examiner’s Office.
Warren Ahrens, chief of police in Winter Harbor, was unavailable Sunday to provide more information.
After six years as a sternman, this had been Arnett’s first year with his own boat and lobster license.
The family has not yet set a date for a service, said Margaret Faulkingham, Arnett’s maternal grandmother.
“Everybody loved him, the old ladies and the young ladies,” Faulkingham said Sunday. “He was the best boy in town.”
Many in the community of 500 were talking about Arnett during the weekend, especially at Chase’s Restaurant, where he and other lobstermen went regularly for coffee and conversation.
“We are a town in mourning,” Cindy Alley, wife of one lobsterman and mother of another, said in the parking lot of the local grocery.
“He was a very hard worker, a very good kid,” said lobsterman Doug Torrey, 76, as he pulled his traps onto the Winter Harbor dock.
“He sunk one of my traps once, and he was some upset. I told him not to worry, that I had plenty of traps for my age.”
The lobstermen who fished with him called him “Big Game” James. The nickname came from Phillip Torrey, nephew of Doug Torrey and one of the 30 or so lobstermen who work out of Winter Harbor. Phillip Torrey had been Arnett’s mentor on the water, and Arnett worked as his sternman for about six years.
“He was always talking about the Boston Red Sox’s big game that never happened,” said David Kelley, recalling Arnett as he, too, loaded his traps onto the dock Sunday afternoon. “He’d talk all about the Red Sox” when talking with lobstermen on marine radio.
Sunday morning, Phillip Torrey had placed a Red Sox cap on the charred post that marked the place where Arnett’s truck had burned.
Torrey declined to talk about Arnett on Sunday afternoon.
Just Friday, Torrey and Arnett had pulled Arnett’s boat from the water, parking it near Torrey’s house.
Arnett had named his boat Rose E., after his mother.
Born in Iceland where his father, Dan Arnett, was stationed in the Navy, the younger Arnett came to Winter Harbor at age 3. He was an honor roll student and basketball player at Sumner Memorial High School, graduating in 2000.
He was planning to spend this winter working in Virginia with a contractor on the University of Virginia campus. For the past two winters he has worked alongside an uncle in Pennsylvania before returning to catch lobster.
Friends at the dock Sunday said they thought the accident happened after Arnett had returned home from a night out.
They surmised that he passed his rented apartment on Main Street, then turned down Harbor Road to the dock, hitting a concrete barrier at the turnaround as he started back up the hill out of the parking area.
Emergency personnel had blocked off Harbor Road on Saturday morning, keeping lobstermen from reaching their boats as word spread about the accident. The scene was cleared by noon.