AUBURN — Prosecutors have dropped a criminal charge against a mechanic at a farm where a haunted hayride killed a 17-year-old girl two years ago in exchange for his testimony against the business where he worked.
The Androscoggin County District Attorney’s Office had charged Philip Theberge, 39, of Norway with reckless conduct, a misdemeanor punishable by up to nearly a year in jail.
The dismissal came in the wake of last month’s acquittal of the driver of the fatal hayride who faced the same charge. A Sagadahoc County Superior Court jury in Bath found David Brown, 56, of South Paris not guilty after a four-day trial.
In addition to dropping its case against Theberge on Friday, prosecutors dismissed two of four criminal charges against Harvest Hill Farm, the business in Mechanic Falls where the crash occurred.
Cassidy Charette, 17, of Oakland died in the crash the night of Oct. 17, 2014. She and 21 other passengers were riding on The Gauntlet haunted hayride through the woods when the Jeep that Brown was driving went out of control. The trailer struck a tree and turned over, spilling its passengers into the woods. Most of the trailer’s other occupants were injured, some seriously. The Jeep also struck a tree, injuring Brown.
Brown said his brakes gave out suddenly on a steep hill on the ride; prosecutors said his brakes hadn’t been adequate to the task and that he should have been aware of the risk but ignored it.
Theberge was a mechanic who worked at the farm and serviced its vehicles.
Adam Sherman, a Lewiston attorney representing Theberge, said Monday that prosecutors had told him they planned to offer his client immunity in exchange for testifying at the trial of Harvest Hill Farm, which is scheduled for next month at Lincoln County Superior Court in Wiscasset.
Assistant District Attorney Andrew Matulis, who is prosecuting the case against Harvest Hill Farm, filed in Androscoggin County Superior Court on Friday dismissal of charges of aggravated assault and reckless conduct. Remaining are charges of manslaughter, a felony, and driving to endanger, a misdemeanor.
Michael Whipple, a Portland attorney representing the farm, said Monday he was pleased to see two of the four criminal charges dismissed.
He said the two charges dropped by prosecutors would have required them to prove the defendant acted recklessly, while the remaining two charges would require proof of criminal negligence, a lower standard of a culpable state of mind.
“That’s consistent with our theory of the case that (Harvest Hill Farm) is innocent of these charges,” Whipple said, adding that he expects to prevail at trial.
Peter Bolduc Jr., owner of Harvest Hill Farm, was not charged criminally. He testified at Brown’s trial that he never noticed any problems with the brakes on the Jeep, which he used around the farm as his primary vehicle.
The trials stemming from the hayride crash were moved out of Androscoggin County by a judge because of pretrial publicity.