Hayrides and similar activities would be subjected to new regulations under a bill considered by lawmakers Monday that was proposed following a haunted hayride crash last fall that killed a 17-year-old girl from Oakland.

The bill to increase the safety of amusement rides was sponsored by Rep. Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, in response to the Oct. 11 accident, which injured 22 people – many of them Messalonskee High School students – and killed teenager Cassidy Charette.

A 1979 Jeep CJ-5 registered as a farm vehicle lost control as it hauled a heavily loaded hayride trailer at Harvest Hill Farms in Mechanic Falls down a hill. The vehicle went careening into trees, ejecting the passengers and two employees. Charette died at a hospital later that night from multiple injuries, according to the state medical examiner’s office.

The Jeep CJ-5 is rated to haul between 1,500 and 3,000 pounds depending on how it’s equipped, which is most likely less than the loaded hayride trailer weighed in October.

The investigative report into the crash has not been released. The Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office has yet to announce whether any criminal charges will come from the incident.

In Augusta on Monday, the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee took testimony on the bill, which would specifically include hayrides under regulated amusement rides.

‘CASSIDY’S LAW’

“When someone pays to get on a hayride or any other amusement ride, they should be able to have the reasonable expectation that somebody with expertise has inspected the ride and judged it to be safe,” Nutting said. Calling the bill “Cassidy’s law,” Nutting noted that Charette was a high school junior who excelled as a varsity soccer player and was No. 1 academically in her class of 224 students.

A number of bills were submitted to restore authority to regulate amusement rides to the State Fire Marshal’s Office, a provision that had been mistakenly removed by the last Legislature. Nutting’s bill would give the commissioner of public safety authority to establish rules regulating the rides.

State Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas told the committee that almost 100 businesses in the state offer hayrides, with many of them running multiple vehicles.

Thomas said regulating and investigating hayrides and similar agricultural activities is outside the expertise of his investigators and more in line with inspections conducted by the Maine State Police. Thomas said there is a significant difference between the mechanical devices at county fairs and amusement parks – which his inspectors attend regular training on – and the mechanical requirements of farm vehicles that transport patrons.

“Brakes come to mind,” Thomas said. “We have no expertise on wagons or trailers. You have to have some assurance, with the weight of a trailer being hauled, a vehicle towing it has the ability to tow it and stop it.”

Thomas said that for his agency to regulate hayrides, a permitting process would have to be created. “If you’re going to do a hayride where you charge somebody for that entertainment, for us to even know how many are out there and who’s doing it, there would have to be a permitting process,” he said.

Committee members suggested that the bill could require inspections conducted by private businesses, as is currently done with road vehicles.

INQUIRY’S CONCLUSIONS AWAITED

Thomas said the Mechanic Falls crash is the only hayride incident his office has been involved with. His investigators have been working with the Androscoggin County District Attorney’s Office and he said he expected information about the inquiry’s conclusions to be released in the near future. Androscoggin County District Attorney Andrew Robinson did not return a call for comment Monday.

No one testified against the bill.

Pamela Cahill of the Maine Campground Owners Association said her group supports the bill’s goals but wants to make sure it is clear about the types of vehicles that are included. Some campgrounds use antique vehicles, old firetrucks or horse-drawn wagons for visitors. The issue is likely to affect the 2015 camping season so members want clarification as soon as possible, she said.

A limited vehicle inspection, which includes brakes, is already required if a farm vehicle is to be used on public roads within 20 miles of a farm’s main entrance, but not if its use is restricted to private property, according to current state law.

The committee plans to hold a work session on the bill Monday morning.

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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