A Halloween hayride in Maine turned fatal yesterday when the vehicle lost control and crashed into a tree, killing a 17-year-old female passenger and injuring more than 20 other riders. The driver and another rider, a teenage boy, are listed in critical condition but authorities have stated that all of the 22 people on the ride were injured in some way.
According to reports, around 8:30 p.m. the Jeep with a trailer behind it carrying the riders missed a turn at the top of a hill. The trailer then jackknifed and the Jeep lost control, speeding down a steep, dirt path and eventually hitting a tree.
When the vehicle struck the tree, all of the passengers – all of whom were over the age of 15 – were thrown from the trailer. While most of the riders sustained minor injuries and were transported to area hospitals via ambulance, two were airlifted from the scene. The more serious injuries involved neck, limb and back injuries.
The accident occurred in Mechanic Falls, Maine, at the Harvest Hills Farm which hosts the Halloween-themed Gauntlet Haunted Night Ride, which was the hayride that turned fatal Saturday evening. The farm is located 25 miles southwest of Augusta, Maine, and is home to Pumpkin Land, another popular area attraction that features a corn maze and pumpkin picking. At the time of the accident, the vehicle was passing by the “haunted house” on the grounds, which is part of the hayride experience as the Jeep slows down at the top of the hill so riders can view the house.
While authorities have indicated that a mechanical failure may be to blame, hayrides are not subject to the same inspection and licensing by state fire marshals as are other amusement rides in Maine. The farm is now closed as police continue to investigate the accident, including reconstructing the scene and interviewing employees of the farm. State police have not released the names of any of the victims.
The Gauntlet Haunted Night Ride has been operating for five years, with six different trailers and drivers this year. A spokesperson for Harvest Hill Farms, Scott Lansley, said that the farm has liability insurance and the insurance companies were contacted last night. He added that the owners of the farm, Peter and Kathie Bolduc, were “extremely shaken” by the accident and are not doing interviews with media.
On the Harvest Hill Farms Facebook page, a status update reads “Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the Gauntlet accident last night. All Fall Venues at Harvest Hill Farms are closed today out of respect to them.” Most of the comments on the farm’s Facebook post offer prayers and condolences while others note that the farm should be shut down for longer than one day and perhaps permanently. Other commenters point out that it was an accident and “finger-pointing” should be withheld at this time.
The hayride that turned fatal in Maine last night is the most recent accident of its kind. In September, a 59-year-old man was killed in a hayride accident in Minnesota when he fell between two hayracks being pulled on the ride.
By Jennifer Fernicola Ronay