AUGUSTA — “Messalonskee strong.”
That’s how Messalonskee High School junior class president Garrett Main of Belgrade described his school community at a crowded fundraising and memorial event Monday evening at the Red Barn in Augusta.
“People are happy the community is rallying around the high school,” he said. “It’s been a really tough time.”
The long-planned fundraiser for the junior class became a time for students and community members to come together in the wake of a terrible hayride accident Saturday night that claimed the life of one of their own, 17-year-old Cassidy Charette of Oakland. The Mechanic Falls accident also seriously injured her boyfriend, 16-year-old Connor Garland of Belgrade, and at least 21 other people.
Main said the students were still grieving the death of a senior who died in a suicide two weeks ago.
“It’s been horrendous from the beginning of the year,” he said. “Two classmates passing away in a two-week span — it’s really hard.”
Main said the turnout for the benefit dinner was overwhelming. Groups of people talked and embraced, giving their children extra-long hugs.
“There’s a lot of care and concern for everybody’s well-being,” said Tammy Sirois of Sidney, a parent of a Messalonskee student. “I think it touched everybody. It just breaks my heart. Tell your kids you love them a lot and hug them.”
According to a Facebook page created to help Connor Garland’s family, the teen baseball standout went through surgery Monday afternoon at Boston Children’s Hospital. He suffered jaw and back injuries in the hayride accident.
Police said a 1979 Jeep hauling a trailer with at least two dozen people on it went off the trail and into a group of trees Saturday night at Harvest Hill Farm’s Gauntlet Haunted Hayride. As of early Monday morning, three people injured in the crash were still listed in stable condition at Central Maine Medical Center, and Jeep driver David Brown, 54, of South Paris had been released from the hospital.
Maine State Police officials said the injuries ranged from cuts and bruises to broken legs, arms, and backs, as well as head wounds. The passengers on the trailer were mostly teenage girls, witnesses told WGME CBS-13. The witnesses said they saw the trailer getting hooked up to the Jeep. Just minutes later, it was racing down a hill, out of control.
Sgt. Joel Davis of the state fire marshal’s office said the driver appeared unable to stop the vehicle.
“It appears there was a mechanical issue, and the vehicle could not stop. The operator attempted to stop the vehicle but could not. That’s when it left the roadway,” Davis said.
The Jeep hit a tree, sending its passengers flying off the trailer and into the woods. Mike Willett and Don Poisson were on the hayride behind the one that crashed. They saw the crash and ran to help.
“We took off down over the hill once we got there. It was complete chaos out in the woods,” Willett said.
“There was just people everywhere on the ground bleeding, people coming out of the woods, couldn’t walk. And we just tried to help them out as best we could,” Poisson said.
Willett said he saw a young girl receiving CPR. That young girl was Charette, who died from her injuries early Sunday morning.
“This is hitting everyone very, very hard,” Scott Lansley, spokesman for Harvest Hill Farm, said. “It’s affecting us all. We all have kids. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families, especially the family of the teenage girl.”
Main and other junior class officials were busy collecting memories about Charette, which they plan to share with her family. They also were gathering donations to help Garland’s family with medical expenses and to start a scholarship in Charette’s memory.
“It’s been hard,” Allison Boyle, 17, of Randolph said. “Cassidy was very athletic and intelligent. You thought she was going to go so far. She was really nice.”
Boyle said the school community has been close through the recent difficult weeks.
“During tough times, everyone comes together, and it helps,” she said.
Darien Frasier, 16, of Belgrade said he plays baseball with Garland.
“He’s just an overall nice guy. He tries really hard to be friends with everybody,” he said, adding that everyone is pulling for Garland to recover as quickly as possible. “He’s a tough kid.”
Main said he is thankful to the Red Barn for hosting the event and is grateful to his classmates and to the community.
“I love my community,” he said. “Things like this, although they’re really negative, they teach you how fragile life is. We have to make the most of every second.”
To help Connor Garland’s family with medical expenses, visit gofundme.com/fqzhcc.
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