When the hayride lurched and then started to speed up, Cody Smith said he didn’t think much of it.

“Just thought it added to the thrill of things, you know,” the 19-year-old from Rumford said Monday. “It started to go faster and faster. For a second I thought I was gonna fall off and then it clicked: OK, this isn’t part of the ride anymore.”

Smith said the operator of the popular Gauntlet hayride tried to keep the trailer on course as it careened down a hill.

“At that point nobody really had time to be scared,” Smith said. “We got towards the bottom of the hill and he tried to make a turn. The Jeep hit a tree and the trailer turned over.”

Saturday night’s horrific hayride accident at Harvest Hill Farms in Mechanic Falls – which killed 17-year-old Cassidy Charette of Oakland and injured 22 others – is still under investigation and many questions remain unanswered.

Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland said Monday that the focus of the investigation is now on the 1979 Jeep CJ5 that was pulling the trailer.

Investigators with the State Fire Marshal’s Office have said it appears likely that a mechanical malfunction caused the vehicle’s brakes to stop working, but have not said why they suspect the brakes are at fault.

McCausland could not say Monday whether the Jeep had been recently inspected, how fast it might have been going or whether the amount of weight it was towing was over its capacity.

Sgt. Joel Davis with the fire marshal’s office said the Jeep had farm plates but he didn’t know whether they were current.

Scott Lansley, a spokesman for Harvest Hill Farms and its owners, said he had no information on whether the Jeep had been inspected recently. He also did not know whether that Jeep or others were used regularly for the hayride.

McCausland said police have interviewed most of the people who were involved Saturday to help put together a timeline of events, but would not provide more information. He said no police report on the incident yet exists because the investigation is still open.

Added Davis: “This is a complicated investigation and it’s going to take some time, but we’re progressing well.”

Smith, who was on the hayride with his pregnant girlfriend, Kaitlin Langevin, and other friends, said he remembers “pretty much everything” about Saturday.

He said when the trailer tipped over, he “pretty much did a somersault out.”

“My first instinct was to get up and find my friends (and Langevin),” he said.

Smith was not hurt, but could see that others were. He had taken an EMT class and was certified to administer CPR. He tried to stay calm.

“I noticed two of my other friends. One of my friends, (Tia Sprague) was standing over the other one and she was in quite a bit of pain in her back,” he said. “I told the policeman, ‘My girlfriend is pregnant.’ We knew she had to be looked at.”

Langevin was not seriously injured, although she was taken by ambulance to a Lewiston hospital to be examined.

Sprague was taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland on Saturday night and was listed in fair condition Monday afternoon.

The hayride’s narrator, a young woman, remained in stable condition at Central Maine Medical Center. Her name has not been released.

Charette’s boyfriend, Connor Garland, 16, of Belgrade, was taken to Boston Children’s Hospital and also remained in fair condition. A post on a Facebook page called “Messalonskee Strong” that was created to raise money for Garland’s care indicated that he was undergoing surgery Monday.

David Brown, the driver of the Jeep, was released from the hospital Monday. He did not answer the door Monday afternoon at a home that was listed as his in South Paris.

Staff members from Harvest Hill Farms announced Sunday that they were suspending the Gauntlet hayride for the rest of the season and have been cooperating with authorities during the investigation.

Lansley, the Harvest Hill Farms spokesman, said the owners, Peter and Kathy Bolduc, were not available for comment Monday and would not allow a reporter onto the farm.

“It’s been a very trying time for them,” he said.

Pumpkin Land, a seasonal feature of Harvest Hill Farms, did reopen to the public Monday, and hundreds of customers had filled the farm by noon Monday, a school holiday.

Rich Brewer of Falmouth was at Harvest Hill Farms with his family. He said they have been coming for years.

“It’s kind of the kick-off to the season for us. It’s like ushering in fall,” he said, while loading pumpkins into the back of his truck with his 9-year-old daughter, Mackie. “I think (what happened Saturday) was a tragic accident.”

Charles Peavey, who with his wife owns Thunder Road Farm in Corinna, a similar facility, said he doesn’t know the owners of Harvest Hill Farms but can’t help but feel for them.

“I know we try to get up each day and make our facility as safe as we can,” he said. “You can’t correct everything. Accidents happen every day, in every business.”

Staff Writers Susan Kimball and Noel K. Gallagher contributed to this story.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: PPHEricRussell


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