Sunday, February 3, 2008

Puller says float struck man after brakes gave out ; The accident, which injured a bystander, occurred despite new parade safety measures in Bath.

Puller says float struck man after brakes gave out ; The accident, which injured a bystander, occurred despite new parade safety measures in Bath.

Portland Press Herald (Maine)


Puller says float struck man after brakes gave out ; The accident, which injured a bystander, occurred despite new parade safety measures in Bath.
Byline: MATT WICKENHEISER Staff Writer
Edition: Final
Section: Front

The man who lost control of a lawn tractor pulling a float in the Bath Heritage Days Parade last weekend said he lost his brakes before hitting and seriously injuring Mark J. Shapiro, a Maine Maritime Museum official who was handing out fliers along the route.

"I was going down Center Street hill and I lost the brakes - it just came on sudden," William Gibson of Damariscotta said Thursday. "I went to go on the side of the road, get out of everybody's way. I even tried to stop and put the emergency brake on, tried to stop it with my foot."
Shapiro, 47, remained in serious condition with a head injury Thursday at Maine Medical Center while police continued to investigate. Sunday's incident was the fourth parade accident in Maine and seacoast New Hampshire in the past year that has resulted in death or serious injury.

In the most serious, a 9-year-old boy died in December after falling from and being run over by the float on which he was riding during the annual holiday parade in Portsmouth, N.H.

Days before, a 3-year-old girl fell from a float in a Freeport parade and was seriously injured when she was run over.

Also in December, a 5-year-old girl's leg was broken while she was marching in a parade in Ellsworth and was hit by a truck towing a

Coincidentally, the accident that injured Shapiro happened during the first year of new safety rules adopted by Bath parade organizers in response to those accidents. Police Chief Michael Field, who was chair of the Heritage Days Parade, was on the committee that worked out the new rules.

Volunteer firefighters were stationed along the parade route.

Riders couldn't hang their legs over the edge of the floats, and safe ratios of children-to-adults were determined. Riders in pickup truck beds had to be seated, he said, and tailgates had to be closed. And, Field said, parade participants weren't allowed to throw candy to the crowd - they could only hand it out.

"I was part of that parade committee, and I'm just horrified," Field said.

He said the lawn mower tractor is being inspected by a mechanic who works specifically on such vehicles, to determine whether there was a mechanical problem. He expected to have a report on the vehicle by the beginning of next week.

The department's accident reconstructionist is investigating the case, and police have interviewed witnesses as well, Field said.

Asked if criminal charges could result from the accident, Field said the District Attorney's Office would review the investigation report.

"What comes out of that, I don't know," said Field. "There's nothing pending at this point."

Field said he didn't think his involvement on the parade committee complicated the accident investigation.

"I am confident that the investigation is being handled professionally and independently of me personally," he said.

Gibson, 41, said he has had a float in the parade for the past five years to advertise his business, Will's Landscaping. He was driving a Wizard lawn mower tractor that was towing a trailer carrying his wife, brother-in-law and sister-in-law.

"I yelled, 'Watch out' really loud. The next thing you know, I hit somebody. I didn't do it on purpose. It was an accident," Gibson said.

He said a police officer and other people grabbed his tractor and trailer to stop it.

Gibson hit the steering wheel and threw his back out, he said, and his sister-in-law hurt her leg.

Shapiro joined the Maine Maritime Museum on May 24 as manager of communications and marketing, said Executive Director Amy Lent.

Shapiro also is a professional photographer and artist who maintains a studio in Tenants Harbor called "tech-tiques gallery." Shapiro is engaged to be married, Lent said.

The museum is collecting contributions to assist Shapiro's family. Anyone who is interested may call the museum at 443-1316.

Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

Caption: Courtesy photo Mark Shapiro, who suffered a serious head
injury when struck by a runaway float, is engaged to be married.

Copyright 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

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