Peter Bolduc, the owner of Harvest Hill Farms in Mechanic Falls, said Friday that he did not know a Jeep used on his property had a faulty brake line before it caused a hayride crash there last October that killed 17-year-old Cassidy Charette of Oakland.

Bolduc contradicted statements made by former employees to investigators last year that they had warned him the vehicle was unsafe. He said one of the employees had lied to investigators.

“To even consider to think I would knowingly put a person at risk is so far from the truth,” said Bolduc, during an hour-long interview in which he described the emotional toll the past nine months have taken on him and his family since the crash last Oct. 11.

Charette, a Messalonskee High School student, was killed when the Jeep’s brakes failed, causing the vehicle and trailer to roll down a hill and strike a tree, throwing passengers from the trailer. Twenty people were injured.

Bolduc spoke to a gathering of reporters at his lawyer’s office in Portland a day after early investigative reports into the crash were made public for the first time on Thursday, when a judge in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn lifted her longstanding seal on the documents.

Bolduc’s company was indicted on criminal manslaughter and other charges. A grand jury also indicted two of Bolduc’s employees, David Bown and Philip Theberge, with reckless conduct, but it did not indict Bolduc personally.

Bolduc said Thursday he is torn with grief for Charette’s family since her death.

“It’s not just the days following the event. When I’m celebrating Father’s Day with my kids, I’m thinking about the father without his daughter. And when I’m sitting with my kids on Christmas, I’m thinking about the father and mother without their daughter. It’s pretty rough stuff,” Bolduc said.

Bolduc said he decided to speak out after news reports on Thursday highlighted statements made by his former employees to investigators early in the investigation. Those statements, made last October and November, were contained in court affidavits created by investigators last year when they applied for search warrants for farm records and vehicle records.

Specifically Bolduc said that Theberge, one of his mechanics, had lied to investigators when he said he had inspected the Jeep only to later admit he had not.

Bolduc said he was honest with investigators from the start of the investigation, had agreed to sit down for a three-hour interview with an investigator while connected to a polygraph machine and had even testified before the grand jury about what happened.

“This was a Jeep that was my personal get-around-the-farm vehicle for all of October and November,” Bolduc said. “You’re talking to a guy who grew up on a junkyard. I know what soft brakes feel like. If there was any indication, then this would have been sidelined.”

Bolduc’s attorney, Michael Whipple, who is representing Bolduc’s company in the manslaughter case, was present at the interview, and allowed Bolduc to speak freely. At times, Whipple added observations of his own.

“His veracity was tested not only by a machine, but also the district attorney, many highly knowledgeable investigators and ultimately the people of Maine – the grand jury,” Whipple said. “As the investigation went on, one of the key witnesses admitted lying to one of the detectives. Not only that they lied, but some of the witnesses were wrong on their information.”

Bolduc said that on the night of the haunted-hayride crash, he had a backup tractor available that could have been substituted if he had known the Jeep was unreliable.

Bolduc defended Brown, the driver in the hayride crash, as someone who would have stopped using the Jeep if he had noticed anything wrong.

“His daily program is to safely operate motor vehicles. If he had recognized there was any issue with the Jeep, he could have pulled it into the sidelines and got the other tractor,” he said.

Brown, 55, of South Paris, and Theberge, 38 of Norway, each pleaded not guilty in court on Thursday to the misdemeanor reckless conduct charges. Whipple entered not guilty pleas on behalf of the business to charges of manslaughter, aggravated assault, driving to endanger and reckless conduct. Bolduc did not appear in court on Thursday.

Harvest Hill Farms faces a maximum fine of $170,000 if convicted of all criminal charges.

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


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