AUBURN — An attorney pleaded not guilty Thursday to manslaughter and other felony charges on behalf of a Mechanic Falls company stemming from a haunted hayride crash in October 2014 that killed a teenager and injured dozens of passengers.

David Brown, 55, of South Paris, the driver of a Jeep pulling a flatbed trailer filled with passengers, pleaded not guilty in Androscoggin County Superior Court to a misdemeanor charge of reckless conduct.

Philip Theberge, 38, of Norway, a mechanic at the farm, denied a reckless conduct charge.

Harvest Hill Farm was indicted by an Androscoggin County grand jury earlier this month on felony charges of manslaughter, aggravated assault and driving to endanger. The company faces up to $170,000 in fines. It also was charged with misdemeanor reckless conduct.

Bail for Brown and Theberge was set at personal recognizance, with no bail conditions. 

If convicted on the misdemeanor charges, Brown and Theberge each face up to 364 days in jail and up to $2,000 in fines.

Because a company cannot be imprisoned, it is not eligible to apply for a court-appointed attorney. Bolduc’s company that owns the land where the haunted hayride occurred has declared bankruptcy. Harvest Hill Farm is not in good standing with the state, according to Secretary of State Bureau of Corporation records.

Portland attorney Michael Whipple had represented Harvest Hill Farm owner Peter Bolduc Jr. while an Androscoggin County grand jury was meeting over three months to hear testimony and examine evidence from the hayride accident, and now represents the farm in the criminal proceeding.

The Androscoggin County District Attorney’s Office decided not to seek an indictment against Bolduc. 

According to Whipple, his client passed a lie detector test administered by Maine State Police and testified before the grand jury.

Whipple said the fact that Bolduc was not personally charged in this case is “a bittersweet scenario for him, obviously.”

And, Whipple said, “the tragedy underlining Cassidy Charette is always with him. It haunts him every day. It haunts his family every day.”

Charette, 17, was killed in the hayride accident.

“I think everybody affiliated with that night is devastated. So he lives with that,” Whipple said.

He said the grand jury likely was sending a message with its rare indictment of a business. “It’s clear that the symbolic nature of this indictment is probably the most pressing reason why Harvest Hill Farm was indicted,” he said, “to make a statement to the community that these accidents and tragedies will be taken seriously.”

Bolduc’s farm operation has several insurance policies with two insurance companies covering his liability in this case. One of the companies has a $1 million policy on the Jeep that was used to tow a flatbed trailer on which passengers on the haunted hayride were riding. The Jeep’s brakes apparently failed, sending the rig careening down a steep path through the woods at the farm. The rig jackknifed, spilling passengers into the woods.

Insurance coverage among all of the policies in effect at the time of the incident total somewhere between $7 million and $11 million, sources have told the Sun Journal.

If convicted, the farm will have to pay any fine imposed, because insurance policies will not cover criminal fines in this case, Whipple said. 

No civil complaints in connection with the incident have been filed in Androscoggin County Superior Court.

Theberge is being represented by Adam Sherman. Local attorney Leonard Sharon is representing Brown. 

When the indictments were handed up last month, District Attorney Andrew Robinson mistakenly announced that Brown had been indicted on felony charges of manslaughter, aggravated assault and driving to endanger. He discovered the error the following morning, and retracted the mistaken indictment, making it clear that Brown had been indicted on misdemeanor reckless conduct only.

According to Sharon, the situation has been difficult for Brown due to “adverse publicity” from the mistaken indictment. “That was quite a knock to his ego and his reputation,” Sharon said. “It was a bad situation, a horrible situation for him.”

According to Sharon, Brown remembers little from the night of the hayride.

“He was driving a Jeep that was provided to him by the company and
lost control.” And, Sharon said. “The state’s going to have to prove his behavior was grossly negligent.”

The parties in the case are expected to meet in September to discuss scheduling for a possible trial.

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