Fatal July 4 accident in Bangor caused by failure of brakes on antique firetruck, says initial report
BANGOR, Maine — A malfunction of the brakes on an antique firetruck caused the fatal Fourth of July parade accident that left a Holden man dead, according to a preliminary accident report filed on the Maine Crash Reporting System.
The report, prepared by Bangor Police officer Russell Twaddell, said that the firetruck “lost its braking ability,” causing it to strike the antique John Deere tractor driven by Wallace L. Fenlason, 63. He “was ejected” from the tractor and “landed in the roadway in the path” of the firetruck.
Neither driver was distracted, according to the report. Their conditions at the time of the accident were described as “apparently normal.”
Sgt. Paul Edwards, spokesman for the Bangor Police Department said Saturday afternoon in an email sent to Maine media that the initial accident report “is just exactly that. Initial and not substantiated.” He said the report would not be completed until later this week.
“In an article published online in the Portland Press Herald this weekend, they quoted Officer Russell Twaddell’s initial accident report concerning the antique firetruck and tractor in which Wallace Fenlason of Holden died during the Fourth of July Parade in Bangor,” Edwards said. “Officer Twaddell wrote in that initial report, that the firetruck ‘lost its braking ability,’ which resulted from Twaddell’s initial field investigation.
“The complete report into this tragic accident, which includes expert investigations by the Maine State Police, the Bangor Police Department’s Accident Reconstruction officer, James Dearing, and Criminal Investigations Detective Cliff Worcester, is not finished and should be by midweek,” he said. “This accident is a very complex five prong investigation that obviously includes much more than witness statements, that are helpful, but need vetting.”
Edwards also said that the report would be released in its entirety when it has been completed.
Fenlason was killed instantly during Bangor’s holiday parade when the vintage 1941 John Deere tractor he was driving was struck from behind on Water Street by the 1930 McCann Pumper, police have said. The parade from Brewer to Bangor was rerouted onto Water Street due to a police standoff on Park Street that began the morning of July 4.
Off-duty firefighter Patrick Heathcote, 29, of Levant was driving the firetruck and was placed on paid leave the day after the accident. He returned to work last week.
A vehicle autopsy was performed July 19 at Eastern Maine Community College by four members of the crash analysis unit, according to a previously published report. Sgt Darren Foster, supervisor of the Maine State Police crash analysis unit based in Augusta assisted in the investigation.
The investigation said that as Fenlason turned off Main Street onto Water Street, he slowed down on the hill toward Pickering Square. The firetruck lost its brakes and struck the tractor.
Fenlason died of a neck injury after he was thrown from the tractor and landed in the path of the pumper, according to a previously published report.
An autopsy of an antique vehicle is unusual, Foster told the Bangor Daily News on Friday about the inspection of the 1930 McCann Pumper.
“It was a challenge because of its age,” he said.
Foster said he could not talk about the conclusions of the vehicle autopsy, but he was able to talk about the process.
The 83-year-old truck has an antiquated driving mechanism but “it had hydraulic braking,” said the crash analysis supervisor, who has been part of the unit for nine years and led it for three.
“Hydraulic brakes are the same from 1930 to today,” Foster said. “The mechanics are the same — there is a master cylinder and brake lines.”
The fatal crash in downtown Bangor has stimulated a discussion about whether inspections should be required for designated antique vehicles, according to Firefly Restoration owner-operator Andy Swift of Hope, an expert and restorer of antique fire apparatus. Annual inspections of antique vehicles is not now required.
“It’s a game changer,” Swift, who has been restoring firetrucks for nearly three decades, said earlier this month. “As time goes on we have to relook at antique vehicles inspections, as much as I want to stick a fork in my eye saying that.”
Antique vehicles are any motor vehicle manufactured at least 25 years ago, and registered as such with the Maine Department of Motor Vehicles.
There are approximately 22,500 antique vehicles and motorcycles registered in Maine, according to Garry Hinkley, director of vehicle services for the state’s DMV.
Bangor Daily News reporter Nok-Noi Ricker contributed to this report.
Final version, I hope.