WEST ATHENS — A victim in one of several fights at this year’s Fourth of July parade in West Athens said Wednesday that he and a friend were set upon inside their truck by a mob of 15 to 20 people who kicked, punched and beat them with a metal pipe.
And the father of one of the victims said people at the parade were saying that many of those involved were high on “bath salts,” a synthetic drug that Gov. Paul LePage banned in emergency legislation signed Wednesday.
Louie Johnson, 21, of Madison, said windows in the truck were smashed and he ended up with a concussion from being kicked and struck in the head.
Another man, Lucas Drinkwater, was hospitalized as a result of the incident, details of which police still had not been able to piece together Wednesday, according to Lt. Donald Pomelow of Maine State Police Troop C in Skowhegan. The investigation is ongoing, Pomelow said, and charges are possible based on additional interviews and license plate information.
Johnson said the attack was unprovoked and came after a minor fender-bender along the crowded parade route on Valley Road.
“It was completely by accident, but people just started freaking out while we were trying to exchange insurance information,” he said.
Johnson said people began kicking the truck. One man climbed into the truck bed and kicked him in the head through the back window, which was broken and covered in plastic from an unrelated incident.
“He commenced to come in the cab, hitting my friend — just going crazy,” Johnson said. “I did what I had to do to defend myself. I hit the fellow. He just wouldn’t stop coming and attacking, so I was just hitting him.”
From there, Johnson said, a crowd gathered around the truck and started shaking it. Someone smashed the windshield with a cooler, he said.
“Then out of nowhere, someone grabs a metal pipe and smashed out my side window and starts pulling me out of the truck,” he said. “I’m just at that point fighting my way to get back in the truck. I’m getting hit from all over and got hit in the back of the head with a metal pipe. Everyone was just drunk, crazy.”
Johnson said he and his friend left the area and did not speak with police. He did not seek medical attention.
His father, Louie Johnson Sr., said his son suffered a mild concussion. He said he was told that people at the parade were using a drug called “bath salts,” the nickname for a combination of synthetic drugs in powder form that contain mephedrone or Methylenedioxypyrovalerone, also known as MDPV, synthetic chemicals that block neurotransmitters in the brain and can stop it from making dopamine, which controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.
The law signed by Gov. LePage Wednesday makes the hallucinogenic drug contraband, meaning it is illegal to traffic in it.
The attack on Johnson and Drinkwater came Monday during the annual counterculture parade founded nearly 40 years ago by some of the area’s counterculture residents. As many as 15 separate fights were reported by West Athens residents during the event, begun originally as a celebration of peace, love and understanding.
Marring the parade this year were fistfights, signs asking women to take off their tops, sales of drug paraphernalia, requests for drug “doses” and truck wheel spinning that sent tire shards and dirty smoke into the air.
Pomelow said three state troopers, three game wardens, two Somerset County sheriff’s deputies and an ambulance from Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan went to the Valley Road area around 2:30 p.m. Monday.
There have been no arrests so far. Possible probation violations are pending, Pomelow said. Athens First Selectman Bruce Clavette said town residents called him and visited the Town Office during Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen to express concerns about the event. He said there is no ordinance in place to prevent a return of the parade next Fourth of July, but he said he is relying on organizers to keep their word and stop it.
“In the last three years, the type of complaints that we’ve had is an indicator to me that violence and drunkenness over there is just getting worse, growing,” Clavette said Wednesday. “West Athens citizens would like to see this thing come to an end.”
He said event organizers have been quoted as saying they would respect the wishes of the West Athens community if the parade ever got out of hand. Organizers said this year’s parade may have been the last one.
“I don’t think we have much in place in terms of legal structure, but I don’t think that’s necessary,” he said. “I believe that the organizers of the parade will respect the wishes of the community. I don’t think forcing anyone to do this or that is necessary.”
Doug Harlow — 474-9534