The family of the Oakland teenager who was killed in an October 2014 hayride accident has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the owners of the farm and two people responsible for maintaining the improperly maintained Jeep believed responsible for the crash.

Named in the lawsuit are Peter J. Bolduc, the owner of Harvest Hill Farms in Mechanic Falls, two of his employees who either drove or performed maintenance on the Jeep involved in the crash and the multiple business entities that Bolduc operates on the farm.

Killed in the Oct. 11, 2014, crash was 17-year-old Cassidy Charette. About 20 others were hurt in the accident.

The lawsuit, filed by Charette’s father, Randy Charette representing his daughter’s estate, alleges that Bolduc and two employees, David Brown and Philip Theberge, knew or should have known that the brakes were defective on the Jeep towing the trailer on which Charette and more than 20 others were seated, and that the Jeep was operating beyond its towing capacity of roughly 2,000 pounds. The wagon holding the passengers was estimated to weigh roughly 5,400 pounds when it tipped over on a downhill portion of the hayride, according to the lawsuit. The family is suing for an unspecified amount of damages, based on the pre-death, conscious suffering Charette experienced.

“Certainly there has been a great deal of denial of responsibility by these defendants,” said Jodi Nofsinger, the attorney representing the Charette family, of the Berman & Simmons law firm. “The purpose of bringing the case, to be clear about this, is that businesses that invite the public in and don’t make sure the services they’re offering are safe have to be held accountable.”

Investigators determined that the 1979 Jeep CJ-7 was registered as a farm vehicle and had new brake parts, but there was not enough brake fluid in the system to stop the loaded vehicle. Theberge was the mechanic who worked on the Jeep, and Brown was driving it at the time of the accident. Neither man could be reached for comment Wednesday.

Nofsinger said the civil litigation took this long to file because it could proceed only after the completion of the criminal investigation, which drew to a close last summer.

The Charette family released a statement through their attorneys in which they designated any proceeds from the lawsuit to go to a charitable foundation established in her name.

“The absence of Cassidy in our lives will never heal with time, accountability, compensation, or conviction,” the family said in a statement. “Nothing can bring her back. The civil lawsuit we filed today is an opportunity for education and change. If it can raise awareness that will prevent even one family from enduring such an unfathomable loss, then the lawsuit is necessary and worthwhile.”

In addition to Bolduc and the two employees, the suit also names five business entitites with ties to Bolduc and the farm’s operation, including October 22 LLC, which does business under the name Pumpkin Land. The other entities named in the suit were Harvest Hill Farm Inc., Re-Harvest Inc., Maine Apple Company, Megquier Hill Farm.

Nofsinger said the group of businesses were all named in the lawsuit because she could not determine with certainty which of the entities controlled specific portions of the farm business, and which business or businesses employed Brown and Theberge.

“For example, Mr. Theberge said he was responsible for maintaining all of Peter Bolduc’s vehicles,” Nofsinger said. “Who Mr. Brown is employed by, that is unclear, because all he said is he worked for Mr. Bolduc.”

Following the accident, Bolduc filed for bankruptcy protection under another business name, Andover Covered Bridge LLC, citing loss of revenue as a result of the accident and personal injury claims as his top liabilities. The bankruptcy was meant to stave off foreclosure, but the case was dismissed because Bolduc failed to file business records during the bankruptcy process. Bolduc’s company, Andover Covered Bridge LLC, still owns the property, according to local tax records.

Bolduc also never filed basic financial information, such as balance sheets, statements of operations, cash-flow statements or federal income tax returns, that help determine the financial health of his company.

When the bankruptcy court dismissed his case, the government trustee noted in a motion that despite stating no income, multiple businesses were still operating on the property, including but not limited to “a pizza shop, livestock racing, the sale of hay and beef, log storage, and the operation of an agricultural entertainment business known as ‘Pumpkin Land,'” according to bankruptcy filings.

“It’s kind of unclear which of the businesses were running the Pumpkin Land enterprise,” said Nofsinger. “It’s not clear who is employed by which corporation.”

Charette was a junior at Messalonskee High School where she ranked first academically in a class of 244, and was a recognized varsity soccer player. Many of the 22 other people injured on the ride were Charette’s classmates.

Following the accident, investigators from the state Fire Marshal’s Office and local departments began reconstructing what went wrong. Lawmakers established a study group in 2014 to examine whether hayride safety can be addressed at a policy level. The group’s report, released in April, looked at farm attractions such as hayrides, corn mazes, fairs, tree farms, pumpkin patches and others. The 11-member group concluded that it was not feasible for the state to regulate such events with current staff, and that a new state agency would have to be created to manage the regulation.

Almost 100 businesses in the state offer hayrides, many of them running multiple vehicles.

A person who answered the phone at Harvest Hill Farm’s office said that the hayride attraction has not been operating since the accident in 2014, and the ride was not promoted during the last Halloween season on the farm’s Facebook page advertising events there.

Charette’s mother, Monica Charette, issued a statement following the study group report, saying she was disappointed in the findings, and argued again for a “Cassidy’s Law” regulating such rides.

“We are pleased that the conversation brought important awareness to the potential dangers of seemingly harmless activities where safety should be a reasonable expectation,” Charette said, through her attorney. “There should be a Cassidy’s Law if it could spare even one life and one family from this experience.”

An Androscoggin County grand jury in July 2015 issued manslaughter and other charges against the farm. Brown, who was driving the hayride, was indicted on a misdemeanor charge of reckless conduct. The grand jury also returned a misdemeanor indictment of reckless conduct against Theberge, the mechanic. Neither case has been resolved yet, Nofsinger said.

No criminal charges were brought against Bolduc. Messages left for Bolduc and his former bankruptcy attorney were not returned Wednesday.

After the accident, both Brown and Theberge said that Bolduc should have known the Jeep’s brakes were faulty, even saying that Bolduc himself complained about the brakes before the crash. Bolduc denied any knowledge of the mechanical problems that led to the crash, and his attorney said that state police administered a polygraph to verify that he was telling the truth.

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. When the indictments were announced, 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.

Reckless conduct is a Class D misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. Manslaughter is punishable by up to 30 years in prison and up to $50,000 in fines for an individual. Convicted organizations can be sentenced to higher fines, according to the Maine Attorney General Office’s website.


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