A safety task force formed in response to a fatal hayride accident in 2014 says the state doesn’t have the ability now to regulate motorized farm attractions and would have to create a new agency to do so.

The Hayride Safety Stakeholders Group found that neither the Maine State Police nor the state Fire Marshal’s Office has the manpower or the resources to regulate motorized farm attractions.

“The stakeholders group agreed that at the current time there is very little that can be done to regulate motorized farm rides,” the group said in its report, which also noted that “some sort of safety guidelines can be made available for those wishing to have such rides for the public.”

In addition to Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas and Col. Robert A. Williams, chief of the state police, the group included representatives from the Maine Fair Association, the Maine Campground Owners Association, the Maine Department of Agriculture and the Maine Antique Tractor Club.

The group was formed through a legislative resolve in response to the hayride crash on Oct. 11, 2014, that killed Cassidy Charette of Oakland, a 17-year-old Messalonskee High School student. The crash at Harvest Hill Farms in Mechanic Falls also injured 22 people.

Charette’s mother, Monica Charette, issued a statement Tuesday night through attorney Jodi Nofsinger.

“We are disappointed in the findings of the stakeholders,” Charette said. “We are pleased that the conversation brought important awareness to the potential dangers of seemingly harmless activities where safety should be a reasonable expectation. There should be a Cassidy’s Law if it could spare even one life and one family from this experience.”

HUNDREDS OF RIDE OPERATORS

The 11-member group focused its review on those hayride attractions that offer rides for a fee. Providers such as pumpkin patches, corn mazes, tree farms, fairs, carnivals, campgrounds, apple-picking orchards and Halloween events were all examined.

Thomas, who co-chaired the group, said that for the state to regulate hayride attractions, it would have to create an oversight agency responsible for identifying privately owned operations that offer rides. The agency then would inspect vehicles and issue permits to the operations.

Thomas said his agency and state police lack the resources to take on such responsibilities. He said the working group couldn’t find any other state that regulates hayride attractions.

“As things exist now, there is absolutely no means for us to find out who is even doing this type of operation,” Thomas said. “This whole thing is just so broad.”

According to the group’s report, there is no agency within state government that oversees motorized farm rides.

“When the permitting process was looked at, one issue is the large number of motorized farm rides that are out there. From an informal survey of several farms and orchards, the number could reach upwards of 250 to 400 separate motorized farm rides,” the report said. “These locations ranged from farms to apple orchards to pumpkin growers to the agricultural fairs.”

A fee-based system would be needed to cover the state’s expenses, the report said.

Thomas said inspectors would have to go to individual farms across the state to inspect farm vehicles because they are prohibited from operating on public roads.

“Both the Maine State Police and the State Fire Marshal’s Office would require additional staff to undertake a program of this size,” the report said.

The group also found “multiple roadblocks” to oversight that include a lack of mechanical and weight standards. Many tractors do not have a published towing capacity like trucks do. Trailers are designed to carry cargo and not passengers so capacities are expressed in pounds and not the number of people.

LEGAL CLAIMS AFTER 2014 CRASH

A summary of the task force’s report has been filed with the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which hasn’t scheduled a meeting yet to consider the group’s findings.

In 2014, authorities said a mechanical problem in a Jeep towing a wagon on a haunted hayride at Harvest Hill Farms caused the vehicle to lose control. The Jeep and wagon rolled down a hill and slammed into a tree, killing Charette and injuring other passengers. An Androscoggin County grand jury subsequently indicted the hayride wagon driver and the mechanic on misdemeanor charges of reckless conduct. Harvest Hill Farms, a corporation, was indicted on charges of manslaughter, aggravated assault, driving to endanger, and reckless conduct.

Charette’s family has retained Nofsinger, an attorney with Berman and Simmons, to represent them.

In an email Tuesday night, Nofsinger said she and another attorney, Daniel Kagan, have filed notices of claim with several corporations that operate as Harvest Hills Farms, as well as with the farm owner and the Jeep operator. Those notices essentially preserve the right to file lawsuits against those parties, but Nofsinger said she “has not formally filed any lawsuits, and has no comment on that process.”

USING TRAGIC DEATH FOR GOOD

Cassidy Charette’s family has remained steadfast in focusing its attention on honoring her life and legacy.

“Our focus today, as it has been since Oct. 11, 2014, is on the love and light surrounding Cassidy and our community,” Monica Charette said. “Cass was a unique human being in the way she shared genuine kindness with everyone around her. Our community is keeping her spirit alive and shining her light in more ways than we can count.

“Cassidy is not in this (stakeholder’s) report. She cannot be reduced to words or works. Her spirit is too big and her light is infinite. The words ‘Shine on Cass’ have become a call to action for people to help others, spread kindness and shine their own light.”

 


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