UPDATE: Missouri newspaper executive's death in Harpswell ruled 'accidental drowning'

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HARPSWELL A Missouri newspaper executive drowned accidentally Aug. 19 after falling from a Whidden Road dock.

According to the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department, Wally Lage, 66, chief operating officer of Rust Communications of Cape Girardeau, Mo., drowned after leaving a private boat at 14 Whidden Road.

Town records show the dock is owned by Harpswell Boat Repair. According to the Sheriff’s Department, the boat is owned by James Costello Jr., vice president of operations at Sun Media Group of Lewiston.

Sun Media owns The Forecaster and the Sun Journal in Lewiston.

Jon K. Rust, co-president of Rust Communications and publisher of the Southeast Missourian newspaper in Cape Girardeau, said Lage was visiting Harpswell for an annual gathering of newspaper executives.

“He was with (Costello) and other very good friends and colleagues,” Rust said. “It was a trip he very much looked forward to every year.”

Costello, responding via e-mail, said “Everyone is still in shock and a little shaken up right now. Wally was a great person who I was lucky to know and spend time with for more than twenty years. He was a great business person and a greater friend. He was someone you could trust.”

Sheriff’s Department Capt. Don Goulet said one witness, Rick Tonoli, of Lewiston, noticed Lage had fallen in the water.

According to Goulet, Costello and a neighbor, John Tanguay, then jumped into the water to try and find Lage, who never resurfaced. Goulet said Costello and Tangen were still in the water when emergency responders arrived.

The Sheriff’s Department said Lage may have become caught beneath a float, where his body was discovered about 30 minutes later.

Emergency responders from Harpswell Neck Fire Department transported Lage to Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick, where he was pronounced dead.

The incident occurred around 9:30 p.m., after sunset and in limited moonlight.

Goulet said Lage and his companions were returning from dinner in Portland. Goulet said members of the group said they had been drinking alcohol, but marine wardens who reponded to the wharf said nobody appeared to be intoxicated.

On Thursday, Aug. 26, the state medical examiner’s office said the cause of Lage’s death was “accidental drowning.”

Lage was well known in the newspaper industry. According to a report in the Southeast Missourian, he oversaw the acquisition or start-up of about 50 newspapers in eight states, including 13 dailies. The newspaper said Lage entered journalism in 1966 after being drafted into the military. By age 25 he was publisher of the Boonville Daily News in Missouri.

Lage was inducted into the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame in September 2008.

“Wally was a remarkable newspaperman and a great friend,” Rust said. “He will be greatly missed. We’ve been hearing from people from Seattle to Maine about his death. He touched the lives of many people.”

Lage is survived by his wife Dori, four children and seven grandchildren. 

Steve Mistler can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net

This report was updated on Monday, Aug. 23, and Thursday, Aug. 26.