Video: Teamwork amid chaos: Details emerge in haunted hayride death

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UPDATE: We talk to a witness who was at the hayride Saturday night.

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

According to spokesman Steve McCausland of the Maine State Police, Charette died overnight at Central Maine Medical Center from her injuries.

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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.

According to Sgt. Joel Davis of the state Fire Marshal’s Office, early indications are that mechanical failure is to blame for preventing the 1979 Jeep CJ5 from stopping while traveling down a grade, causing it to jackknife and sending the full wagon into a roll.

Harvest Hill Farms owner Peter Bolduc and his family addressed members of the media Sunday afternoon. Visibly shaken, the family teared up as Bolduc said, “We can’t even imagine the grief that the families are feeling right now.”

“For the remainder of the season, we are suspending activities at the Gauntlet out of respect for those families,” Bolduc said. “We are all impacted by this as well — all the families here.”

Poland fire Chief Mark Bosse was closest to the incident and first to set up command.

Bosse described the chaos at the scene, with “200 people on the hill running around.”

Among them were cast characters in costumes, some of which made them look injured, complicating the assessment of the scene.

“It was amazing — the mutual assistance,” Bosse said of this highly unusual operation. “Everybody did an outstanding job.”

Bosse said despite the confusion, the dark and the wooded terrain, “Everybody was listening and doing exactly what I asked them to.”

“Today,” Davis said, “we’ve been conducting interviews with employees of the hayride” trying to determine what may have happened and what they may have seen.

“We’re also in the process now of working on determining the mechanical issues with the vehicle that was towing the hayride,” he said.

“We do have three people that are being treated at Rumford hospital, that were initially treated last night that were back to the hospital to be checked today,” Davis said. “We don’t know their conditions.”

Davis said there were four people still hospitalized as of Sunday evening. Also, because injuries involved employees of Harvest Hill Farms, a representative from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is on-site.

“Obviously a lot of the people that are called actors that participated in this were getting ready to do scenes, and they saw the vehicle go by and knew something was wrong with it” Davis said. “They heard the crash, and they went down immediately and offered their assistance.”

“I’ve got to say that the employees here at Harvest Hill Farms did a remarkable job though,” Davis said. “There were employees that initiated CPR. They really did their best to try to help the victims out here. We’re talking young people, 17-year-old people administering first aid — doing the best they could.”

“I’m not a medical expert, but just the fact that they were able to get in there and offer their assistance shows that they really care for what goes on here,” he said.

Dr. Pete Tilney of Biddeford was at home when he received the call of multiple patients inbound.

“When CMMC was notified, they were really great,” Tilney said of first responders, who, despite the chaos on the ground, were able to assess the situation and prepare the hospital for what they were about to face.

“We had 30 minutes to prepare and that was huge.” Tilney said it was enough time to activate the hospital’s mass casualty protocol. “Once we were able to identify the numbers — 25 to 30, we put our disaster drill into action.”

Tilney said 35 to 40 staff were called in to handle not only the accident in Mechanic Falls, but to run a normal night in the emergency room and, most importantly, decide how to utilize the extra staff wisely.

Despite the rapid influx of injured, Tilney said, “We were not crazy overwhelmed,” something he credits firefighters, EMS and police with.

“They are the heroes,” Tilney said. “It was great teamwork in a chaotic situation.”

Cole Quirion of Auburn had just returned from riding the Gauntlet when the accident occurred.

Quirion said, “I definitely didn’t walk away thinking that something like that would happen — who would? Who thinks a hayride would be anything but safe?”

Staci Thibodeau Lemont rode the Gauntlet Saturday night as well.

“I was there until about 8:15,” Lemont said. “I received a text from a friend about 8:40 on the way home asking if I was OK because she had heard about the accident.”

“We had a great time and never felt unsafe — except for the typical scary dude with a chain saw.”

dmcintire@sunjournal.com

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