LEWISTON — A company that’s part of the same corporate structure as Harvest Hill Farms has a lengthy record of citations for vehicle-safety violations, according to public records obtained by the Sun Journal.
According to a Maine State Police supervisor, the company’s safety rating is among the worst in Maine.
On Oct. 11, Cassidy Charette, 17, of Oakland was killed and 22 others injured — including Charette’s boyfriend, 16-year-old Connor Garland of Belgrade — during a haunted hayride at Harvest Hill Farms on Route 26 in Mechanic Falls. A 1979 Jeep hauling a flatbed loaded with hay bales and patrons went out of control on the farm’s Gauntlet trail before hitting a tree and flipping its passengers.
Re-Harvest, a company within the corporate structure of Harvest Hill Farms, has seen its trucks that haul recycled materials, including paper, inspected by state troopers with the state’s Commercial Vehicle Enforcement division at least 33 times since 2005.
On Tuesday, a former driver for the company said Re-Harvest managers were aware of the truck-safety issues but did little to correct them.
Over about a 10-year period, inspections of Re-Harvest vehicles resulted in 178 safety citations, including failure to correct defects noted on previous inspections, improperly securing or not securing loads, and defective brakes and steering systems. Trucks were also cited for leaking oil, missing and defective axle parts and inoperable horns and headlamps.
Re-Harvest and Harvest Hill also have been inspected by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, resulting in four citations for serious violations and fines totaling $5,628.
An official with OSHA’s offices in Maine said the fines were for a range of violations that were considered serious, including missing handrails for fixed stairways at Re-Harvest’s Portland warehouse and processing facility and workers at the farm not wearing hard hats during a construction or demolition project.
Re-Harvest also was fined for not following federal lock-out, tag-out procedures meant to protect workers from being injured or killed when repairing dangerous machinery.
Former Re-Harvest employee Charles Ramsey of Standish said he was stopped by police in September 2010 after a section of the roof on the trailer of an 18-wheeler he was hauling blew off the vehicle in the town of Sidney, Maine.
“A big section of the roof came flying off the trailer and subsequently had me pulled over because of that fact,” Ramsey said. “I got pulled over several times and they pretty much put the name out there for Re-Harvest.”
Ramsey said Re-Harvest managers were aware of the issues with safety and urged drivers to avoid the Maine Turnpike to avoid being stopped for unsafe vehicles. Ramsey said he was fired from Re-Harvest because of his complaints about vehicle safety.
“I was a squeaky wheel,” he said.
Ramsey, now a self-employed carpenter, said he took the job with Re-Harvest during a downturn in the economy but often had to work on the truck he was assigned to keep it in running order.
Ramsey said the truck he was driving in September 2010 was found to have inadequate brakes, holes in the frame, bad tires and “just too many things to really name. It was quite a few things.”
James Wright, the supervisor for Maine State Police Troop K, the agency’s Commercial Vehicle Enforcement troop, confirmed that Re-Harvest had been cited for the 26 violations. Wright said the company had been cited for 23 other safety violations during two other inspections of a truck Ramsey was driving in 2010.
Wright said companies that operate trucks are given a safety rating that’s weighted over a three-year period based on accidents and safety violations; that rating goes from 0 to 100. The lower the score, the better the company’s safety record, he said. Re-Harvest’s rating is 87, Wright said.
“The violations are substantial,” Wright said. “They are not the worst company we’ve seen, but they definitely are in the higher percentile for being worst and it’s not a good score for them.”
Peter Bolduc Jr., the owner of Harvest Hill Farms, is also listed as the president of Re-Harvest, according to the company’s articles of incorporation on file with the Maine Secretary of State. Bolduc is also listed as part of the management team for Re-Harvest on the company’s website.
None of the safety violations would have any bearing on Bolduc’s ability to operate an “agritourism” hayride because such events in Maine require no safety inspections or licenses for operation.
In addition to Harvest Hill and Re-Harvest, Bolduc’s affiliated companies are Farm House Pizza, Harvest Hill Auto Sales and Harvest Hill Fruit and Produce, according to state records.
Messages left for Bolduc and his attorney were not returned Tuesday.
Another lawyer, Daniel Kagan of the Lewiston-based law firm of Berman & Simmons, urged people to reserve judgment in the hayride accident.
Kagan said he is not representing any of the parties involved in the hayride accident.
“When tragedies like this happen, people want immediate answers,” he said. “They want to know who was at fault, and how to prevent it from happening again. That is human nature. But there is a danger in rushing to judgment.”
“Speculation and guesswork does not help the victims and their families. It does not help the hayride operators, either,” Kagan said. “Once the investigation is completed and the facts are analyzed carefully, then it is fair to discuss fault and responsibility.”
Kagan said immediate calls for new laws or regulations may also be premature.
“In a situation like this, the first priority is to figure out what happened,” Kagan said. “Once you figure out what happened, you can focus on compensating the victims harmed and taking appropriate action to be sure it never happens again.”