Parade future unclear for antique truck involved in July Fourth death

The antique firetruck in the Fourth of July parade on Wilson Street in Brewer. An accident involving the vehicle and an antique tractor later occurred on Water Street where the man on the tractor was killed.
Courtesy of Richard Shaw
The antique firetruck in the Fourth of July parade on Wilson Street in Brewer. An accident involving the vehicle and an antique tractor later occurred on Water Street where the man on the tractor was killed.
By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff
Posted Aug. 01, 2013, at 9:17 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Whether the city will permanently park the antique firetruck involved in the Fourth of July parade fatality remained unclear Thursday.

“[That] conversation hasn’t taken place yet,” Norman Heitmann, Bangor’s city solicitor, said. He declined further comment.

Wallace Fenlason, 63, of Holden died instantly when the 1930 McCann Pumper rolled on top of him, according to Bangor police.

A fatal crash report released Thursday concluded that the accident was the result of insufficient brake fluid.

Despite the accident that claimed Fenlason’s life, it is unlikely that antique vehicles — or any other motorized vehicles — will be banned from future Fourth of July parades, said Tony Bernatche, president of the Greater Bangor Fourth of July Corp., the nonprofit group that puts on the annual Independence Day parade and fireworks show.

“It’s an extremely unfortunate accident and [Fenlason’s death is] a major loss to the community,” Bernatche said.

“We have looked into it over and over to see if there was anything we could have done different, anything. We’ve come up empty. There’s no way we could have prevented it from happening,” Bernatche said.

“Who could have foreseen that there would be a shootout in downtown Bangor? Who ever would have thought there would be a fatal accident in a 2 mph parade?” he said.

On Thursday, Bernatche said the group hasn’t decided if it will change its parade policies and procedures in the wake of last month’s tragedy.

“There have been a lot of meetings already to discuss the day’s events,” said Bernatche, who has been on the corporation’s board for seven years, the last five as president.

“Our biggest concern at the end of the day is public safety,” he said.

One example of the steps already taken to date is the ban on throwing candy from floats to the children lining the streets.

Bernatche said the prohibition was put in place to prevent children from dashing into the street, where they might be run over by parade units.

“I don’t want it on my watch,” he said.

Bernatche said parade organizers don’t track the number of antique vehicles that participate in the group’s Fourth of July parades. He said that roughly 60 percent of the people and groups who participate don’t register in advance. They simply show up on the morning of the parade and organizers find them a spot in the lineup.

He also said it would be unrealistic to expect parade organizers to have a mechanic licensed to do inspections go over parade vehicles before each parade.

Fenlason’s family declined Wednesday and Thursday to comment on the investigation’s findings.

However, Fenlason’s daughter Amy Gailitis of Saco did say that a cherished Shrine pendant her father always wore that was lost in the accident has been found and returned to her mother, Lorena Fenlason.

“It meant a lot to her,” Gailitis said.

Bernatche said Thursday that when he visited with the Fenlason family to express his condolences, they mentioned the missing pendant and told him how much they hoped someone would find it.

That’s when it occurred to Bernatche that the pendant could be among the street sweepings collected after the accident.

Although Bernatche wasn’t allowed to sift through the sweepings himself, two city firefighters did and found the missing medal.

Fenlason was driving a 1941 tractor on Water Street during the Brewer-Bangor parade when the 1930 Hose 5 Museum firetruck driven by Bangor firefighter Patrick Heathcote, 29, of Levant rolled onto the tractor.

The annual parade had been re-routed down Water Street because of a standoff on Park Street in downtown Bangor in which a Detroit, Mich., man was arrested.

The 1930 McCann Pumper is owned by the city and is leased to a group called the McCann Committee, founded in 1984 by eight firefighters and then-Fire Chief Robert J. Burke, who refurbished the vintage vehicle, which is now part of the collection of antique firefighting apparatus kept at the Hose 5 Fire Museum on State Street.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/08/01/news/bangor/parade-future-unclear-for-antique-truck-involved-in-july-fourth-death/ printed on September 19, 2014