A Ford Flex transport van from Knowlton and Hewins Funeral Home in Winthrop lies beside Route 202 in Greene in November 2017 after being rear-ended. Maine State Police say the funeral home employee Richard Charest of Winthrop died when the van was hit from behind and a free-floating platform holding a casket came through the front seat, severing his spine and cutting through the main artery in his body. Maine State Police photo

Six years after a collision in Greene that killed a Winthrop man delivering a corpse to a funeral home, a new state law takes effect Saturday that could prevent other deaths.

The rear-end accident shortly before Thanksgiving in 2017 drove a wooden platform designed to hold a casket in place right through the front seat of the Ford Flex SUV, severing Richard Charest’s spine and cutting through his aorta, the main artery in his body.

He died on the spot.

His wife, Marie Charest, learned that the platform should have been bolted down so it could not slide, but no regulations required it. She lobbied lawmakers to revise the rules — and they listened.

“It was a lengthy process and I was never 100% sure it was going to pass, but it did,” she said Friday.

Having the new law take effect, she said, is “a truly bittersweet moment.”


“Funeral homes will no longer be able to place free-floating platforms behind the backs of those in the front seat,” Charest said.

It comes too late for her 59-year-old husband, she said, “but hopefully it will prevent another family from getting that knock on the door” like she experienced.

Mark Fortin, a friend, told legislators considering the measure, that he couldn’t believe the news of Charest’s death was real.

When he found out it could have been prevented, Fortin said, “I experienced sadness, anger and extreme frustration” that a life had been “needlessly and tragically cut short.”

“Frankly, I cannot believe that in this day and age with the many laws that are created to carefully govern highway safety that a protective engineered feature wasn’t implemented earlier to protect funeral industry employees,” he told legislators at a public hearing. “This death was avoidable.”

The Legislature agreed in 2021. It’s taken until this month to polish the rules and put it in place.

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