AUGUSTA — Randy Charette, whose daughter Cassidy was killed in a hayride accident at Pumpkin Land in Mechanic Falls in 2014, filed a wrongful death lawsuit Wednesday against the company and its owner, Peter Bolduc Jr., claiming damages resulting from Cassidy’s death.

Charette’s suit also names the driver of the Jeep involved in the crash and the mechanic who worked on the vehicle.

In a written statement, Randy and Monica Charette of Oakland said “the absence of Cassidy in our lives will never heal with time, accountability, compensation or conviction. Nothing can bring her back. The civil lawsuit we filed today is an opportunity for education and change. If it can raise awareness that will prevent even one family from enduring such an unfathomable loss, then the lawsuit is necessary and worthwhile.

“Any financial compensation we receive will be thoughtfully used to extend into the world the love and compassion we know Cassidy would have given, if she were here.”

The suit does not seek a specific dollar amount but seeks compensation for 17-year-old Cassidy’s pre-death “conscious suffering,” including her fear in the moments before the crash and the pain before her death.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed in Kennebec County Superior Court, Cassidy traveled to Pumpkin Land in October 2014 with friends because it offered a haunted hayride called The Gauntlet. The ride was advertised as a “wholesome, fun and safe family attraction … that combined the fun of a hayride with the illusion of danger from Halloween ghosts, goblins, zombies and devils.”

The hayride featured a wagon with hay-bale seats that was towed behind a Jeep. According to the suit, after the friends were seated on hay bales the wagon began to move along The Gauntlet path. As it started descending a hill, the wagon’s speed increased causing “Cassidy, her friends and other patrons to experience alarm, fright and fear.” The 22 people on board were, according to the suit, aware that the wagon was out of control and that a crash was likely and imminent.

The wagon left the path and tipped over, throwing Cassidy and others to the ground. Cassidy was fatally injured in the fall.

According to the suit, and to court records compiled in criminal cases filed against the Jeep’s driver, David Brown of South Paris, mechanic Philip Theberge of Norway and Pumpkin Land’s owner, Harvest Hill Farm in Mechanic Falls, the 1979 Jeep CJ-7 towing the wagon did not have properly functioning brakes at the time of the crash, its towing capacity was too small for the load and there was no braking system on the wagon.

The Jeep’s towing capacity was 2,000 pounds, according to the suit, while the wagon’s weight, with the hay bales and people aboard, exceeded 5,400 pounds.

According to Jodi Nofsinger, a lawyer with Berman & Simmons who represents Randy Charette, “what the case boils down to is that there are very simple safety precautions that each of us take in our own lives, every time you get your car inspected or notice your brakes aren’t working just right. We all do something about that. We know we must do that to make sure we’re safe and the people around us are safe.”

But, she said, the defendants in this case “invited people to come in, pay to go to this ride. We all have a right to expect that when we go to one of these hayrides that it’s a safe ride, that the vehicle is working. That the brakes work.”

Nofsinger said Cassidy’s death “would have been completely preventable if they had simply done the normal work everyone does to take care of their brakes.”

According to the suit, the wagon — which was not designed to carry people — had no seats, handholds, belts, railings or other devices for people to hold onto.

In addition to Bolduc and Pumpkin Land, the suit names October 22, Re-Harvest Inc., Maine Apple Co. and Megquier Hill Farm, all of which are owned by Bolduc.

According to the suit, Bolduc knew or should have known the loaded wagon weighed more than the Jeep’s towing capacity, as should have Brown and Theberge. Charette contends all three were personally negligent because they knew, or through the exercise of reasonable judgment, should have known that the Jeep was not fit to haul the loaded wagon that resulted in Cassidy’s death.

Charette claims that Bolduc’s various companies that owned, operated and managed The Gauntlet hayride were each negligent in managing and operating the ride by using a dangerously ill-suited tow vehicle and wagon in the popular Halloween attraction. And that the “harm and trauma Cassidy Charette experienced before her death and her death itself was a direct” result of that negligence.

According to an affidavit of Maine Fire Marshal’s Office senior investigator Daniel Young, the brakes on the Jeep hauling the 20-foot-long farm trailer appeared to have failed, or had other mechanical problems, that caused “the Jeep and trailer to travel down a 300-foot gravel road with a continuous downward pitch.”

In addition to the Jeep, Pumpkin Land was running six other rides with SUVs and tractors along the trail, running about 20 minutes apart on the night of the accident.

According to Nofsinger, the civil case will become eligible for trial in about a year. There may be some unusual complexity in how the case unfolds, though, because the defendants are also named in criminal cases.

Brown and Theberge are awaiting trial on misdemeanor charges of reckless conduct in connection with the October 2014 accident. If convicted, they each face up to 364 days in jail.

Harvest Hill Farm is awaiting trial on a manslaughter charge. If convicted, the company could be fined. Bolduc was not charged.

Efforts to reach the defendants for comment were not successful.

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Report of the Maine Fire Marshal's Office on hayride safety

More coverage: Harvest Hill Farms owner appeals to court for bankruptcy protection

#ShineOnCass

Monica and Randy Charette have established the ShineOnCass Foundation to honor their daughter.

According to a written statement from the couple, “this public charity will not only sustain, but will propel Cassidy’s spirit, her hopes and dreams, far into the future.”

Cassidy was a top student and star athlete in her junior year at Messalonskee High School when she was killed. According to her family, since her passing, “a continuous flow of programs and events have been held to honor the teen’s compassion for service and kindness to others. The community continues to find creative and meaningful ways to ‘Shine Cassidy’s Light.’”

Since her death, the family estimates $150,000 has been gifted to various charitable organizations Cassidy cared about, and thousands more have been donated in-kind to support community projects.

Some of those projects include “Cassidy’s Kids,” a service program at Mount Merci Academy, a private Catholic School in Waterville that Cassidy attended; Cassidy’s Kitchen, a fully-equipped three-season teaching kitchen installed at Hart-to-Hart Farm in Albion, where she attended summer camp; “Eat Dessert First” at Dairy Queen in Waterville, which raises money for the ShineOnCass Memorial Scholarship at Messalonskee High School; and ShineOnCass Volunteer Day at the animal shelter in Waterville where Cassidy and her brother Colby volunteered.

Cassidy was honored posthumously in May with a REM “Catch the Dream” Award for Outstanding Community Service with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Maine; her brother accepted the award in her name.

According to Cassidy’s parents, “Cassidy was unique in the way she shared genuine kindness with everyone around her. Very early in life, she found her passion was simply, and humbly, caring for others. We are heartbroken for her many friends, and most especially her brother, Colby, whose future with his only sibling and best friend will never be. What we are all left with are cherished memories and wonderment of all Cass would have become, and the lives she continues to positively influence with her own.”

For more information about the foundation, go to: facebook.com/hashtag/shineoncass 

To contact the foundation, send a message to [email protected].


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