A mechanical problem caused a 1979 Jeep towing a wagon full of passengers to careen down a steep Maine hill and slam into a tree during a Halloween-themed hayride in the woods, killing 17-year-old Cassidy Charette and injuring more than 20 other people, authorities say. Investigators are inspecting the Jeep to determine why it failed to stop on the hill at Harvest Hills Farm, and state police are calculating passengers' weight to determine if the wagon was overloaded and whether that contributed to the mechanical problem. The Saturday night crash during the Gauntlet Haunted Night Ride "threw everyone off the trailer and into each other and into trees," says a rep from the state fire marshal's office, who tells the Portland Press Herald that brake failure was the likely culprit. "The Jeep could not stop going down the hill."
Also injured was 16-year-old Connor Garland, who suffered multiple fractures and was in fair condition last night at Boston Children's Hospital. Kathy Mathieu, whose son is a close friend of Connor's, said Cassidy and Connor attended the school's homecoming together last week. She said the community is planning a fundraiser for Cassidy's family. "Everybody is doing everything they can to help this family," Mathieu said. "There are no words to express the sorrow for the parents." The driver, identified by police as David Brown, 54, underwent surgery late Saturday and was released from the hospital yesterday. Brown is an experienced trucker who has a commercial driver's license, says a farm rep. "We're a tight community," he added. "This is really a tragedy for us." (Read more hayride stories.)