Maine farm pleads guilty to felony charge for hayride death

AUBURN, Maine, Nov. 15, 2016 — Harvest Hill Farm pleaded guilty today to a felony charge of driving to endanger, for the haunted hayride crash that killed Cassidy Charette two years ago.

The farm in Mechanic Falls, Maine, owned by Peter Bolduc Jr. was initially charged with manslaughter. Maine law allows criminal charges to be filed against a company or organization, with convicted companies subject to fines. Prosecutors dropped the manslaughter charge in exchange for today’s guilty plea to the lesser offense. The farm will be required to make a charitable donation.

Cassidy, 17, was an honor student and standout athlete at Messalonskee High School in Oakland. On Oct. 11, 2014, she and some friends went to “The Gauntlet” at Harvest Hill Farm, a popular haunted hayride attraction. Cassidy died when a 1979 Jeep and the wagon it was towing went out of control and flipped while traveling down a hill. Several others were injured.

An investigation concluded that the Jeep should not have been used to tow the wagon. The Jeep’s rear brakes did not work, its front brakes were not functioning properly, and the vehicle was hauling more than double its intended towing capacity, among other problems, prosecutors said.

The conviction for driving to endanger, imposed today at Androscoggin County Superior Court, concludes the criminal prosecution related to the hayride tragedy.

The civil lawsuit, however, remains ongoing. The Charette family filed a wrongful death lawsuit this summer against Harvest Hill Farm, farm owner Peter Bolduc, Jr., driver of the Jeep David Brown, and mechanic Philip Theberge.

Jodi Nofsinger of Berman & Simmons, attorney for the Charette family, spoke at today’s hearing. She read one statement of her own, and one for the family (see full statements below).

“The admission of guilt in this criminal case validates what we have known from the early stages of the investigation: that the incident at Harvest Hill Farms was not just an unavoidable accident as some have suggested. Rather, it was a tragedy that could have and should have been prevented,” Nofsinger said.

“Today’s resolution goes a long way toward setting the record straight. After two years of denying responsibility, Peter Bolduc finally admits that he chose profit ahead of the safety of not only Cassidy and her friends, but all of his patrons. Because of that choice, 17-year-old Cassidy Charette paid the ultimate price.”

The plea hearing was covered by media outlets throughout Maine, including the Associated Press, Lewiston Sun Journal, and the MaineToday Media newspapers (Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel). Click on the links to read the coverage.

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Statement from Cassidy (Written by Monica Charette, her mom)

The natural order in life is the expectation that your parents will go before you, and you, as their child, will proudly carry out their legacy. I was not given that opportunity. Instead, it is my parents who are now the keeper of my light and who give me a voice here today.

I am Cassidy.

I am not “that girl in the hayride accident” you read about in the newspaper. I’m not “the victim” legislators and lawyers use in their briefings; and I’m not just the person who is notably missing in this courtroom. I cannot be reduced to words or works. My spirit is too big.

When this case is closed and others move on with their lives — I will not. I was 17 years old when my life was suddenly taken. I lived just 6,250 days. Not enough time.

Not enough time to experience my teenage rites of passage: driving friends for the first time to school; being asked to the prom; proudly playing in my last home soccer game; receiving my diploma from high school. Maybe even giving the valedictorian speech I worked so hard to achieve. I didn’t even get to see my 18th birthday.

17 years, 1 month and 11 days isn’t enough time to even take the SAT exam, let alone go to college. Not enough time to reach a dream of attending graduate school, developing a professional career or ever discovering my life’s work. I regret never having a chance to reach my full potential to help others—which I learned early in my life was my passion and the center of my existence.

I will never get married or experience the joys and privileges of being a mother. I won’t ever be called “Mrs.” or “Aunt Cass.” I will never hear the words “I love you Mom.” And while I will always be Colby’s loving big sister, there wasn’t nearly enough time to share our lives together.

But I am not the only person whose life was taken on October 11th, 2014. My friends, only teenagers themselves, lost a piece of their lives. You took away their innocence, their sense of security, trust and hope. Many live with guilt, anger, sadness and an emptiness that can never be filled. My family is incomplete. My bedroom is vacant. Our house, once filled with constant laughter and joy, has become silent. Gatherings are stifled with grief and our once treasured holidays together, are overshadowed by the empty chair.

My parents, who are experiencing the worst of human suffering, are broken, trying to exist in a world they no longer recognize. While my friends’ parents are sharing their family vacations and recent college visits, mine are digging deep to find the courage to get through each day. Their hearts are no longer whole.

My life on Earth is no longer and the lives of the people I loved most, have been shattered by human recklessness, negligence and greed. Seemingly nothing matters, because unfortunately no amount of money, change in policy or admission of guilt can bring me back. But my hope is that this never happens again to another family, another community, or another young woman, whose promising life was just beginning.

We write our own legacy by the words we choose, the actions we take, and the love we share with each other.

Shining on,

Cass

Statement from Jodi Nofsinger, attorney for the Charette family

May it please the court; I represent the Charette family in the wrongful death lawsuit that has been filed against Peter Bolduc, Harvest Hill Farms, and its employees.

The admission of guilt in this criminal case validates what we have known from the early stages of the investigation — that the incident at Harvest Hill Farms on Oct. 11, 2014 was not just an unavoidable accident as some have suggested. Rather, it was a tragedy that could have and should have been prevented. Cassidy Charette’s sudden passing on that night resulted from the fact that Harvest Hill Farms was knowingly operating in a negligent, unsafe manner.

It is reasonable to expect that every business should have common sense measures in place to ensure children and their families are safe from preventable harm. There were simple steps that should have been taken to protect Cassidy, her friends, and everyone who reasonably assumed their safety that night at Harvest Hill Farms.

A night of innocent teenage entertainment turned to tragedy. The jeep that was used to pull this hayride was hauling more than double its towing — and therefore braking — capacity. A fact Harvest Hill Farms knew, yet chose to ignore. There is also evidence that the brakes were not functioning because they were not properly maintained. The fact remains that if they had used a properly maintained vehicle, capable of passing a State inspection like all vehicles, and were mindful of the capacity to properly tow the wagon and the people who entrusted them with their safety, this tragedy would never have happened, and Cassidy would be here today.

Today’s resolution goes a long way toward setting the record straight. After two years of denying responsibility, Peter Bolduc finally admits that he chose profit ahead of the safety of not only Cassidy and her friends, but all of his patrons. Because of that choice, 17-year-old Cassidy Charette paid the ultimate price. While this admission of guilt can never bring Cass back to her family, it holds Mr. Bolduc accountable for her death. And it is our hope that it prevents a similar tragedy from ever happening to another family.

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