CORRECTION: The Androscoggin District Attorney on Thursday, July 9 said the driver of the hayride that crashed in October has been charged only with reckless conduct, a Class D crime. A press release sent by the DA’s office Wednesday, July 8 was incorrect and mistakenly said David Brown was also charged with manslaughter, aggravated assault and driving to endanger.

An Androscoggin County grand jury chose not to issue a manslaughter charge against the driver of the hayride that crashed Oct. 11, killing a 17-year-old Oakland girl, despite an announcement issued yesterday by the county’s district attorney.

The driver, David Brown, was charged only with reckless conduct.

Androscoggin County District Attorney Andrew Robinson on Friday corrected an earlier press release that had said David Brown had been indicted on a number of felonies. Robinson said the grand jury signed an indictment charging Brown with a series of felonies including manslaughter, but that the panel had only voted to charge him with reckless conduct.

Robinson said it was the result of a clerical error.

The grand jury did vote to charge Harvest Hills Farms, which operated the hayride, with manslaughter but it did not indict the owner of the Mechanic Falls farm, Peter Bolduc. Bolduc has filed for bankruptcy protection for the land where the farm operates, listing personal injury claims as his top liabilities.

The indictment against Harvest Hill Farms charges: manslaughter, aggravated assault, driving to endanger and reckless conduct. Androscoggin County District Attorney Andrew Robinson said Maine law allows for criminal charges to be brought against an organization.

Manslaughter is punishable by up to 30 years in prison and up to $50,000 in fines for a person. Convicted organizations can be sentenced to higher fines, according to the Maine Attorney General Office’s website.

A defendant is guilty of manslaughter if the defendant recklessly or with criminal negligence causes the death os someone else.

The accident at Harvest Hills Farms killed Cassidy Charette and injured more than 20 people.

Charette’s parents, Monica and Randy Charette, issued a statement through their attorneys that said, in part:

“We understand there are many people who are angry and want some sort of ‘justice to be served.’ We do believe that if investigators and prosecutors deem that a person is criminally responsible, then appropriate charges should be pursued. People should be held accountable for the decisions they make that affect the health and safety of others.

“But for us, the bottom line is this: In the end, we are still in the same place. Living in a life we no longer recognize without our beautiful, loving, inspiring, amazing Cass. We are left with lifelong yearning and grief. The excruciatingly disappointing truth is that nothing can ever change that, because nothing can bring her back.”

Robinson, the district attorney, announced the indictments Wednesday evening.

“These indictments represent the next step in our pursuit of justice for the many victims of this crash,” he said in a prepared statement.

He said the grand jury methodically reviewed a large volume of evidence before reaching its conclusion.

Robinson said the state did not seek an indictment against Bolduc because the investigation raised doubts about whether prosecutors would be able to get a conviction. Under those circumstances, the state is obligated not to seek charges, he said.

He declined to comment further because the cases are now pending in court.

Bolduc could not be reached by telephone late Wednesday, and attempts to contact Brown were unsuccessful.

MECHANIC FACES MISDEMEANOR

Authorities have said a mechanical problem appears to have caused the accident in which a Jeep towing a wagon full of passengers went down a hill and slammed into a tree.

The grand jury also returned a misdemeanor indictment of reckless conduct against Phillip Theberge, the mechanic for Harvest Hills Farm.

Jodi Nofsinger, an attorney with Berman and Simmons, represents Charette’s family, which plans to bring a claim against the farm in connection with her death.

“Cassidy’s family and friends have suffered an unimaginable loss,” Nofsinger said in a prepared statement. “What matters most to them is that people focus on Cassidy’s life, her memory, and the incredibly positive impact she had on those who knew her.

“The Charette family’s focus now is on finding meaningful opportunities to honor Cass and supporting the many extraordinary ways that their community continues to shine Cassidy’s light so that she will never be forgotten,” the statement said.

Charette was an honors student and athlete at Messalonskee High School, where a scholarship and a Big Brothers Big Sisters program were started in her name.

Nofsinger said the indictment itself does not affect any claim the Charettes might bring, but it enables the firm to begin its own investigation into who might have been negligent in connection with the crash. Some of that is coming to light already, she said.

“My best understanding is the Jeep was a vehicle that had been modified in several different ways. It simply didn’t have the towing capacity, it wasn’t rated for that kind of weight,” she said, also noting that the course involved a steep grade. “The amount of brake fluid in the chamber was very, very low. My understanding is there was some knowledge of that by the driver and by the mechanic.”

Inadequate brake fluid can affect a vehicle’s braking power.

Nofsinger said it is not unprecedented to have an organization or company held criminally responsible, but it usually happens on lower-level crimes such as when a trucking company gets charged for having overweight or unsafe trucks.

“As a practical matter, you can’t punish anyone through incarceration. Typically, it’s a financial penalty imposed when it’s an indictment of a corporation,” she said.

FILING CHAPTER 11

Bolduc filed a voluntary petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy July 2 under the corporate name Andover Covered Bridge LLC, according to documents filed with U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Portland.

The filing does not cover the business that operated the hayride, just the entity that owns the land on which that business and other related enterprises are tenants, according to the law firm representing Bolduc.

“Cope Law Firm represents Andover Covered Bridge, LLC, a company which owns real estate on which Harvest Hills Farms is a tenant,” said a statement from the firm. “Andover Covered Bridge, LLC filed a Chapter 11 Petition. … Harvest Hills Farms is open for business as usual and is not directly impacted or affected by the bankruptcy of Andover Covered Bridge, LLC. “

The petition for bankruptcy says the business has assets between $1 million and $10 million and says its liabilities also are between $1 million and $10 million, owed to fewer than 50 creditors.

A form to list the top 20 unsecured claims includes just three names: Peter Anderson, Penny Smith and someone who appears to be a minor child in care of Penny Smith. It identifies them as individual personal injury claims, though the filing lists as unknown the amount of each claim.

Other claims are pending, but civil litigation is frequently delayed while criminal proceedings are underway.

It is not clear how much insurance coverage Harvest Hills Farms carries.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy allows a business to reorganize debt and negotiate with creditors while the collection of debts is put on hold. It doesn’t mean the business stops operating.

Almost 100 businesses in the state offer hayrides, many of them running multiple vehicles. A bill in this legislative session proposing to regulate hayrides was amended to become a resolve that called on public safety officials to study the issue and report to legislators in February. The resolve was vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage, but the Legislature voted to override the veto.

 

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @Mainehenchman


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