The state fire marshal says there is no state regulation or government oversight of the haunted hayrides that attract thousands of Halloween celebrants each fall in Maine.

An accident Saturday night at a haunted hayride in Mechanic Falls caused the death of a teenage girl and injuries, some of them serious, to 22 others. A 1979 Jeep CJ5 that was pulling a hay wagon was unable to stop on a hill and overturned, spilling the driver and passengers into the woods.

The crash took place at the Gauntlet Haunted Night Ride, a featured attraction at Harvest Hill Farms off Route 26 in Mechanic Falls.

State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said Sunday he knows of no state regulations related to haunted hayrides. “We have no statutory authority,” he said.

Thomas said he also does not know of any local agency in Maine that permits, licenses or inspects hayrides, which typically feature a tractor pulling a wagon loaded with bales of hay and passengers along a route “haunted” by actors dressed in scary Halloween costumes.

Thomas said his agency is only responsible for inspecting and licensing amusement rides at locations such as the Palace Playland Amusement Park in Old Orchard Beach and at fairs such as the Cumberland County Fair and the Fryeburg Fair. Maine law (Title 8, Chapter 29) defines an amusement ride as a “device that is intended to give amusement, excitement, pleasure or thrills to passengers whom the device carries along or around a fixed or restricted course or within a defined area.”

Jeffrey Reiff, a lawyer in Philadelphia who specializes in highway and motor vehicle defects, rollovers, and amusement park accidents, said the fatal hayride accident in Mechanic Falls underscores the need for federal and state regulations governing such attractions.

He said he feels particularly bad for the passengers who assumed the ride was safe. Reiff said the Jeep that was pulling the wagon was in all likelihood exceeding its weight towing capacity. “Whenever something like this happens, the Legislature needs to wake up and do something,” Reiff said Sunday night.

Hayride accidents aren’t uncommon, according to media reports from around the country.

Last weekend, a Missouri woman fell off the back of a tractor during a hayride, was run over and was taken to the hospital by helicopter with serious injuries.

Last month, a 59-year-old man was killed during a hayride in Minnesota after he tried to jump between two wagons that were attached, fell between them and was run over.

A year ago, an employee at a camp in Michigan was charged with reckless driving when the hayride he was towing tipped over, sending nine people to the hospital. Passengers reported that the man, whose blood-alcohol level was elevated but under the legal limit for driving, was going fast at the time of the accident.

In 2011, a hayride driver in Ohio was sentenced to 10 days in jail for operating under the influence when he drove a tractor off the side of the road, causing the trailer he was towing to flip over, injuring 28 people.

That same year, a volunteer for a Washington state youth group lost a finger and two others suffered leg and ankle injuries on a church-sponsored hayride that flipped over on a steep hill.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers contributed to this report.


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