Aiden Bulkley, a 5-year-old, drowned in the Penobscot River last summer. His father, Chad Bulkley, has started the organization Aiden’s Gift: Life Jackets for Lives to prevent similar tragedies from occurring. Bulkley’s efforts have started in Bucksport and Stockton Springs, where life jackets and rescue rings now sit at public piers. PHOTO COURTESY OF AIDEN’S GIFT

Father of boy who drowned works to prevent similar tragedies

BUCKSPORT — Chad Bulkley, an offshore oilman with permanent residence in Bangor, was in Louisiana a year ago when he learned his 5-year-old son, Aiden, had drowned in the Penobscot River.

Aiden was staying with his mother — Chad’s ex-wife — at the time. His grandfather on her side, Ron LaRue, had taken the boy to Bucksport, where he fell off the town dock. LaRue jumped into the swiftly moving water to save the boy, but like Aiden, he drowned.

That was Aug. 8, 2014.

Both of their bodies were recovered by rescuers from the local fire and police departments, the Maine State Police and other agencies — several of whom have been honored for their rescue efforts.

Awful as the news was, Chad recalled in a recent interview, he wasted no time in considering how to prevent the next boy, girl or grandparent from drowning in a similar manner.

“I knew immediately I wouldn’t want for [Aiden’s] loss to be wasted. If there was anything I could do to prevent another family from going through this tragedy, then it’s absolutely worth every effort,” he said. “Everyone says the pain of losing a child is unexplainable, and they’re right.”

Since then, Chad, a Maine Maritime Academy graduate who still works in the Gulf of Mexico, has turned his grief into a campaign to have life jackets and rescue rings placed at public docks such as the one in Bucksport.

Called Aiden’s Gift: Life Jackets for Lives, his small operation has so far brought jackets and rings to piers here and in Stockton Springs. A boatyard in Jamestown, R.I., where Chad has a relative, also has installed a life ring holder thanks to his efforts.

He’s raised more than $4,000 and plans to start donating similar items at sites down the east coast and into the Gulf of Mexico. At the Bucksport Bay Festival last month, Chad raised $200.

The topic of drownings is never absent from the news cycle for long, especially in coastal Maine.

“Every day, about 10 people die from unintentional drowning. Of these, two are children aged 14 or younger. Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States,” according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.”

Those numbers don’t surprise Chad, who pointed out that a kid simply doing a back flip off a dock could lead to an accident.

For updates on Aiden’s Gift, visit or the group’s Facebook page.

Donations to the fund can be made at

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the date Aiden Bulkley and Ron LaRue drowned. 

Charles Eichacker

Charles Eichacker

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Charles Eichacker covers the towns of Bucksport, Orland, Castine, Verona Island, Penobscot, Brooksville and Dedham. When not working on stories, he likes books, beer and the outdoors. [email protected]

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