The fatal October 11th hayride accident that claimed the life of 17-year-old Cassidy Charette and injured 22 others has received extensive press coverage. In fact, The Reiff Law Firm attorney, Jeffery Reiff was called upon by NBC news to provide insight and legal analysis into the causes for the tragedy and its likely consequences. New revelations revealed through public documents obtained by the Sun Journal, a local Maine newspaper, provide some insight into our concerns about how diligent the farm was in maintaining their equipment and their concern for safety. It is important to realize that this information can show a pattern or course of dealing, but it is not definitive proof of the events that occurred that evening. However information of this type can show that certain conduct is likely due to habit or established business practices.
Recycling Company Owned by Harvest Hill Cited for Nearly 200 Safety Violations
The Sun Journal reports that Harvest Hill Farms, owned by Peter Bolduc Jr., is but one of the corporate entities Mr. Bolduc does business through. Mr. Bolduc is also listed as president of Re-Harvest which is a corporate entity through which haul’s Harvest Hills recyclable materials such as paper. Other companies also owned by Mr. Bloduc include Farm House Pizza, Harvest Hill Auto Sales and Harvest Hill Fruit and Produce. Over a ten year period, Re- Harvest Hill was cited for safety violations 178 times. Inspections of Re-Harvest and Harvest Hill by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) resulted in four serious violations and $5,628 in fines. A brief sample of the problems identified in the numerous inspections of Re-Harvest vehicles have included:
- December 12, 2007 – A walk –around inspection identified that this commercial vehicle had been operated for more than a year without a required periodic inspection. Other problems identified included a steering system with loose tie rod ends, both the left and right tail lamps were inoperable, and the identification light was non-functional.
- November 13, 2008 – A Re-Harvest truck was cited for six violations after a walk-around inspection. These included inoperative headlights, inoperative windshield wipers, an expired medical certificate, failure to correct the expired certificate as indicated on a previous report, failure to display an IFTA sticker, failure to correct a previously cited failure to display IFTA sticker.
- August 28, 2009 – An array of problems were also uncovered n this inspection including operating a commercial motor vehicle without undergoing a required inspection for 3 years, multiple non-functional lights and lamps. Furthermore, serious problems with the brakes, steering system, brake linings and vehicle axles were identified.
- June 6, 2014 – A full inspection performed after a Re-Harvest truck pulled off of I-95 for weighing revealed very serious safety violations. The inspection found that the cargo was not properly secured as only one side of the rear roll-off container was secured. The inspection also identified problems with the commercial truck’s brakes. The report indicated that the right brake line for axle 1 was broken and leaking air, a clamp or roto brake was improperly adjusted, and the automatic airbrake failed to compensate for wear. The brake problem was so serious that they were deemed to be out of service because the brakes for the vehicle were more than 20-percent defective.
Other reports indicated safety problems with vehicle tires and tire inflation, leaking oil, a cracked vehicle frame, and many other problems. Regulatory violations included repeated failures to submit to periodic inspections, a driver’s failure to carry his or her license, and failures to display local and DoT stickers & records. In short, Re-harvest was repeatedly cited for numerous safety defects and repeated failures to correct previously identified deficiencies. According to Maine State Trooper and supervisor, James Wright, “The violations are substantial. They are not the worst company we’ve seen, but they definitely are in the higher percentile for being worst and it’s not a good score for them.” Re-Harvest’s rating is 87 on a scale of 0 to 100 with 0 being a spotless safety record and 100 being the worst. As for the OSHA Violations, an official with OSHA’s offices in Maine indicated to the Sun Journal the OSHA fines were for serious violations. These included missing handrails for stairways at Re-Harvest’s warehouse and processing facility and workers at the farm not wearing hard hats during a construction or demolition project.
Former Driver: They Knew of Safety Violations but Encouraged Avoiding Enforcement
Information provided by former Re-Harvest truck driver, Charles Ramsey, seems to comport with many of revelations uncovered by the public documents obtained and released by the Sun Journal. Mr. Ramsey recounts that he was stopped by police in September 2010. The police stop occurred after a section of the roof of the trailer of an 18-wheeler he was hauling blew off the vehicle in the town of Sidney, Maine. He stated to the paper that, “A big section of the roof came flying off the trailer and subsequently had me pulled over because of that fact. I got pulled over several times and they pretty much put the name out there for Re-Harvest.” Mr. Ramsey claimed the truck he was driving in September 2010 was found to have numerous safety defects – 26 separate violations to be exact — and “just too many things to really name. It was quite a few things.” Vehicle Examination Report ME4113000384 completed on September 9, 2010, seems to confirm Mr. Ramsey’s account. The report cites the company for:
- “Inspection, repair and maintenance of parts & accessories—roof panel on trailer ripped off into traffic”
- “Inspection, repair and maintenance of parts & accessories–hole in trailer floor rear”
- “Inspection, repair and maintenance of parts & accessories—front wall of trailer loose and not secured”
Ramsey said that he was “a squeaky wheel” and that Re-Harvest managers were aware of the issues with safety. But, rather than correct the issues, he says they urged drivers to avoid the Maine Turnpike to reduce the likelihood that they would be stopped for unsafe vehicles. Ramsey claims he was fired from Re-Harvest because of his whistleblowing regarding vehicle safety.
What is a Reincarnated Motor Carrier?
A reincarnated or affiliated motor carrier is sometimes referred to as a chameleon carrier. While one may operate more than one motor carrier for many reasons, one may not do so to avoid FMCSA action or regulations. A reincarnated carrier is 2 or more commercial motor carriers that attempt to hide or mask their non-compliance or a history of non-compliance through a scheme involving common ownership, common management, common control, or a familial relationship. The reasons for non-compliance can vary, but generally, the employment of strategies like these are to avoid out of service orders, civil penalties like fines, and other consequences of failure to comply. Section 385.1007(a) of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) permits the suspension or revocation of registration if, “motor carrier or motor carriers have reincarnated or affiliated to avoid regulatory compliance or mask or otherwise conceal regulatory noncompliance, or a history of noncompliance.
Is Harvest Hill Engaging in a Reincarnated Carrier Scheme?
Before we delve into this aspect any further, it is important to note that the hayride operations are not governed by FMCSA regulations because activity of that type is unregulated in most states. Furthermore, at this point, a clear determination cannot be made because some important facts are not necessarily clear. Additionally, because the purpose of the affiliated carrier matters, additional inquiry into governmental and business records would likely be necessary. However, it is important to note that the farm’s operations were more expansive than just fall hayrides. Affiliated companies included Farm House Pizza, Harvest Hill Auto Sales, and Harvest Hill Fruit and Produce. if these businesses are engaged in the commercial transport of goods, it is likely the FMCSA regulations would apply. If it is found that Re-Harvest was operated as a means to quarantine the violations and history of violations to a single entity, then Harvest Hill corporate umbrella was likely engaging in a reincarnated carrier scheme. However, if these companies were merely a means to organize business operations and nothing more, then a determination that the companies participated in a reincarnated scheme would be rather unlikely. What we can say with a good deal of certainty is that the corporate structure of these businesses added an additional layer of inquiry that concerned parents and other individuals would have to navigate before obtaining a clear picture of the company and its affiliated businesses safety history. That is, a search and inquiry regarding the safety of the operations of only Harvest Hill Farms would return few, or no, problems prior to this accident. One would need to determine the owner Harvest Hill and then perform a business records search for affiliated businesses. Then one would need to scour safety record databases the various state and federal agencies. Only then would an accurate picture of the corporation’s safety record be available. When combined with a lack of reporting requirements for agribusinesses, whether intentional or inadvertent, this corporate structure deprived consumers of the information necessary to make an informed safety decision. Source: Fatal hayride operator’s recycling company frequently cited for truck-safety violations.