AUGUSTA, Maine — The parents of an Oakland teenager who died nearly two years ago in a hayride crash filed a wrongful death lawsuit Wednesday in Kennebec County Superior Court against the owner of Harvest Hill Farms, where the incident occurred.
Monica and Randy Charette of Oakland sued owner Peter J. Bolduc Jr., 50, of West Poland; David Brown, 56, of South Paris, the driver of the Jeep pulling the hay wagon; and Phillip Therberge, 39 of Oxford, the mechanic who worked on the Jeep. The lawsuit also named several of Bolduc’s other businesses.
The Charettes are seeking unspecified damages for their daughter’s pain and suffering before her death, funeral expenses, emotional distress and loss of comfort, society and companionship, according to the 20-page complaint filed by the family’s attorneys at Berman & Simmons of Lewiston.
Cassidy Charette, 17, of Oakland died and 22 others were injured Oct. 11, 2014, when a Jeep pulling the hay wagon went out of control and sent the wagon carrying passengers careening down a hill, where it flipped over, according to a previously published report.
Charette was on the hayride wagon with seven other students from Messalonskee High School in Oakland when the Jeep went down the hill around 8:30 p.m., struck a tree and overturned during the farm’s Gauntlet Haunted Hayride.
Investigators pointed to mechanical problems with the 1979 Jeep, and experts questioned whether the load it was hauling was too heavy, according to the Lewiston Sun Journal.
The girl’s parents said in a statement issued Wednesday that the lawsuit was not about money.
“The absence of Cassidy in our lives will never heal with time, accountability, compensation or conviction,” Randy and Monica Charette said. “Nothing can bring her back. The civil lawsuit we filed today is an opportunity for education and change. If it can raise awareness that will prevent even one family from enduring such an unfathomable loss, then the lawsuit is necessary and worthwhile.”
The family also said that if it wins the lawsuit, damages would be used to create a foundation.
“Any financial compensation we receive will be thoughtfully used to extend into the world the love and compassion we know Cassidy would have given, if she were here,” the statement said. “In that spirit, and with support from family, friends, and our community, we are establishing the ShineOnCass Foundation. This public charity will not only sustain, but will propel Cassidy’s spirit, her hopes and dreams, far into the future.”
The lawsuit claims the Jeep’s towing capacity was 2,000 pounds, but it was towing a wagon with a load of 5,400 pounds. The complaint also said the Jeep’s brakes were not working, and the wagon had no braking system.
“The wagon was designed to move hay and other farm produce and was neither intended nor designed to carry people,” the lawsuit alleged. “The wagon had no seat, hand hold, belts, railings, or other devices for use by people on it.”
Efforts to reach attorneys for Bolduc, Brown and Theberge were unsuccessful Wednesday.
A year ago, the company was indicted by the Androscoggin County grand jury on one count each of the following charges: manslaughter, a Class A crime; aggravated assault, a Class B crime; driving to endanger, a Class C crime; and reckless conduct, a Class D crime.
Brown and Theberge were indicted on one count each of reckless conduct, a Class D crime.
Trials are tentatively scheduled to be held this fall, according to the Sun Journal.
If the company is convicted of the most serious crime of manslaughter, its owner could not be imprisoned but the firm could be fined up to $100,000.
Theberge and Brown face up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000 on the reckless conduct charge.
The Charettes, who have lobbied for more oversight, have been disappointed in legislative efforts to tighten regulation on amusement rides, according to a previously published report.
In March 2016, the working group headed by Maine State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas issued a report summarizing there was little the state could do to regulate the safety of farmyard amusement rides. In 2015, lawmakers submitted at least six bills aimed at regulating hayride safety, which instead resulted in a study of the activity in Maine.
The report noted the state lacks resources and expertise to inspect and license the more than 300 different hayride events that take place each year in Maine.
“We are disappointed in the findings of the stakeholders,” Monica Charette said in a statement issued by the family’s attorney, Jodi Nofsinger of Lewiston, earlier this year.
In a separate court action, Bolduc’s firm, Andover Covered Bridge LLC, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July 2015, according to U.S. Bankruptcy Court documents. The land and buildings at Hanover Hill Farms on Route 26 are owned by the firm.
Of the 19 creditors named in the bankruptcy petition, three of the claims are from people who have filed personal injury claims against Bolduc because of the crash, according to the Lewiston Sun Journal. Charette’s estate was not listed.
Nofsinger said last year that filing for bankruptcy would not shield Bolduc’s assets from damages that might be awarded as a result of a civil lawsuit. She said some claims could be covered by the farm’s insurance.
The bankruptcy case was dismissed in December after a judge ruled there was enough equity in the property for Bolduc to pay his bills. That decision has been appealed.