‘Gauntlet’ visitors describe confusing scene

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Two days after a 17-year-old girl was killed and 22 others were hurt, information is still coming about the accident at Harvest Hill Farms’ Pumpkin Land on Route 26 in Mechanic Falls.

Authorities on Monday were still planning to investigate the Jeep involved in the accident.

Raven Hunt, 14, of Litchfield stood fifth in line to take the next wagon Saturday night as she watched The Gauntlet hayride amble off into the darkness.

“A saw a Jeep and the top was cut off, and I thought that was kind of weird. I kind of brushed it off,” Hunt said. “It was like a flat wagon. They didn’t have any gate rails on side or anything. You sit on the hay in the middle.”

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She knew nothing of the jackknifed wagon or the hurt people when police quietly arrived at the scene.

“A cop pulled in and told everybody to back up,” Hunt said. “We were thinking that there was a fight or something.” Rumors spread that someone had a heart attack. “Then ambulances started showing up and a LifeFlight helicopter.”

She heard no crash. She heard no yelling. Only later did she hear how tragic the situation had become.

“I am lucky to be here,” she said.

Sydney Moore, 17, of Lewiston was also in line for the hayride when the accident occurred.

“My friends and I were waiting in line to go on the haunted hayride when we saw a cop come speeding down the road,” Moore said, “many people thought it was part of the show but my friends and I knew something was wrong.”

Moore was there with fellow Lewiston High School students Raven Rossignal and Sadie Picard.

“My mom and dad were waiting in the parking lot and they had called me when the ambulances came rolling in,” Moore said, “they were asking me what was going on and as the fifth ambulance came in everyone was running and yelling.”

Moore said, “Parents were yelling for their kids and kids were yelling for their friends.”

“People were saying that two kids had passed and many were on the ground severely injured but the scariest part was that no one knew anything for sure until there was news,” Moore said.

“It was just a mass hysteria and I’m definitely going to remember it for the rest of my life,” Moore said.

Moore said that although she understands it was just an accident, she isn’t very likely to take another haunted hayride.

Brittany Davis, 16, of Mechanic Falls was also there with friends when she made a fateful choice.

“We almost got on the one that flipped over,” Davis said, “but since our group was bigger, we waited for the one after that.”

Davis said they boarded the next trailer and the narrator began her script before making their way into the woods.

“We only got through two parts of the gauntlet, then I heard screams,” Davis said, “which is thought was part of the ride itself, so I didn’t think of it.

As they made their way further down the road, Davis said someone came running around the corner with a flashlight and approached the tractor driver. Again, Davis said she thought it was all part of the attraction.

“We drove up a little more to another corner, then the driver turned off the tractor, got out and everyone on the ride was asking what was going on,” Davis said.

“The driver said that there was an accident on the trailer in front of us, and that he needed to find a way to get the trailer off the road to make room for the ambulance to drive through.”

That was when, according to Davis, a few men from her trailer jumped off the ride and ran down the road to help. That was when she knew something was wrong.

“One of the workers came to our trailer an informed us that we needed to get off, and walk back to the field because of the accident,” Davis said, “when we walked out of the woods, we started to hear sirens come from everywhere.”

Davis said, “My friends and I stayed together, because we didn’t want to get separated, considering it was dark and we didn’t know what was going on.”

“Then when we got back to the field was when it started getting real,” Davis said.

Davis said she and her friends stood in the dark as the field quickly filled up with emergency vehicles. She said when they saw what was happening via social media, “everything went blank in my mind.”

“Knowing that could have been myself and my friends, really hit hard,” Davis said,  “watching all the ambulances taking people away, then the 2 helicopters landing, we knew this was a serious situation.”

Davis said, “Living in Mechanic Falls my whole life — going to school at Poland — knowing a lot of people that work there, really effected me.”

She said, “Since it’s just so close to home and everything, and it really hit hard.”

When first responders arrived Saturday night, they found the hay wagon — a flatbed trailer loaded with hay bales — had jackknifed while going downhill and trying to round a curve. The riders had a variety of injuries including broken legs, arms, head injuries, a broken back and multiple cuts and scrapes, said Sgt. Joel Davis of the state Fire Marshal’s Office.

Cassidy Charette, 17, of Oakland, died in the accident. She was with about seven other students from Messalonskee High School, including 16-year-old Connor Garland of Belgrade, on the Gauntlet wagon ride.

Garland was taken to Boston Children’s Hospital with a broken jaw and back injuries, according to a Facebook page established to support Garland’s family.

The driver of the wagon ride, David Brown, 54, of Paris, was taken by LifeFlight to CMMC with a neck injury. He was released from the hospital Sunday.

There was a lot of confusion at the scene with so many injuries, Harvest Hill
Farms spokesman Scott Lansley said.

There were between 500 and 600 people in the park at the time of the accident, Lansley said, waiting to board one of five hay rides. The rides were scheduled to leave every 15 minutes. Three of the wagons were at the start, and another had already left for the trail when the accident was reported. Those riders were stopped and escorted by foot back to the start, and the park was evacuated.

Most of the hay wagons are pulled by tractors, but the park also uses modified vehicles, like the Jeep involved in this accident, to pull the wagons. According to Davis, investigators are looking at whether the combined weight of the wagon and the people aboard may have been connected to some sort of mechanical failure of the 1979 Jeep CJ5.

Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland said Monday the local District Attorney’s Office had asked the Fire Marshal’s Office to be the lead agency in the investigation.

“Most of the interviews have been done,” he said mid-morning Monday.

The only detail left: State Police are inspecting the Jeep involved in the accident.

“I just don’t know whether that will take place today or tomorrow,” McCausland said. “Looking at the Jeep is an essential piece of this investigation.”

Once complete, the Fire Marshal’s Office will compile a full report for the DA’s review, he said.

There are currently no charges pending.

On Monday, Pumpkin Land reopened for regular hours, but the Gauntlet hayride is closed for the season.

More coverage:

Did you see the accident?

Were you at Harvest Hill Farms in Mechanic Falls on Saturday night? We would like to talk to people about what happened. Please contact reporter Daniel Hartill at dhartill@sunjournal.com or 207-689-2881 if you would like to talk about it.

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