State troopers will conduct a vehicle autopsy to determine what caused a Jeep CJ-5 that was towing a trailer during a haunted hayride to crash Saturday night, killing a 17-year-old Oakland girl.

The crash happened Saturday night as a trailer loaded with 23 people and pulled by the Jeep wound through the Gauntlet, a haunted hayride at Harvest Hill Farms in Mechanic Falls.

The farm had been offering the rides for a couple of hours that night without incident when the Jeep lost control. It was near the end of the ride, traveling on a gravel track headed down a long, steep hill with trees on either side, investigators said. The Jeep and trailer, which had no railings or anything to hold onto, raced down the hill, crashing into some trees. The driver and all the passengers were thrown off.

The crash killed 17-year-old Cassidy Charette, a Messalonskee High School junior, and injured the driver, the ride’s narrator, and the other passengers, police said.

Three passengers, including Charette’s boyfriend, 16-year-old Connor Garland, of Belgrade, remained hospitalized Tuesday.

The mechanical inspection of the Jeep will be performed by reconstructionists with the Maine State Police traffic division, either at the state garage on Crosby Road in South Portland or the State Police Crime Lab in Augusta. Authorities needed to get a search warrant before the analysis could begin.


The green 1979 Jeep with a yellow roll bar was impounded in Auburn. It was registered as a farm vehicle, according to Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, but he, the state fire marshal’s office and a spokesman for Harvest Hill Farms said they did not know whether the Jeep had been inspected in the past year.

A limited vehicle inspection, which includes brakes, would be required if a farm vehicle were to be used on public roads within 20 miles of the farm’s main entrance, but not if its use was restricted to private property, according to state law.

Loretta Worters, vice president of communications for the Insurance Information Institute, said that the degree to which an insurance carrier would inspect a facility before writing a liability policy varies by company and can depend on the relationship with a particular customer.

Often, a company might do an initial inspection to assess the possible risks at a business location and then provide renewals based on the customers’ claim history, she said.

She doubts a company would inspect individual vehicles, but might check the trailers for safety features.

Scott Lansley, a spokesman for the farm, did not know what type of liability insurance the farm carries.


State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said investigators will look at the brakes and whether the load the Jeep was towing exceeded its capacity. A vehicle’s rated towing capacity takes into consideration how much it can haul, as well as how much weight it can effectively stop, Thomas said.

That calculation would include the trailer’s weight empty plus the people on board. A 2014 Jeep Wrangler without special equipment has a towing capacity of 2,000 pounds, according to the car company. If the 35-year-old Jeep that crashed had a similar capacity, the 23 people on the trailer would have had to have averaged considerably less than 100 pounds each for the combined weight of the trailer and passengers to be under 2,000 pounds. The Jeep under investigation is too old to have an event data recorder, which are included in modern cars.

The hill in Saturday’s crash has a slope of 9 percent, meaning it drops about 27 feet over its 300 foot length, said Sgt. Joel Davis, of the state fire marshal’s office.

None of the trailers being pulled by the farm’s tractors had any problems. It’s not clear why the Jeep was being used.

Hay rides are not regulated in Maine. The fire marshal’s office was asked to take the lead on the case by the Androscoggin district attorney’s office because that agency regulates amusement rides.

Garland, 16, was taken to Boston Children’s Hospital after the crash and is in fair condition, Thomas said. A Facebook page created to support his family reported that he had surgery Monday and on Tuesday was able to see visitors.

Another passenger, Tia Sprague, was in fair condition at Maine Medical Center in Portland on Tuesday, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The ride’s narrator, whose name has not been released by police, was taken to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. She has been listed in stable condition.


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