By BOB OLIVER
DEARBORN – The Highland Township man who was driving the tractor involved in a hayride accident at Camp Dearborn that sent nine people to area hospitals on Oct. 27 is expected to be charged with reckless driving for the incident.
Milford Police Chief Thomas Lindberg announced plans Thursday to charge the driver. The charge of reckless driving would carry a maximum penalty of 93 days in jail or a $500 fine.
In the wake of the accident, the 28-year-old man, who is a part-time employee, has been suspended without pay by the city of Dearborn while the investigation into the incident continues.
The city owns and operates the camp, which is in Milford.
The accident occurred shortly after 5:30 p.m. in Area B of the camp when the driver attempted to navigate a small hill. The tractor was turning to the left, toward a row of campsites, when the trailer turned over, landed on its side and righted itself again.
All 16 passengers were thrown from the trailer and several riders sustained injuries.
According to the police report filled after the accident, the camp employee who was driving the tractor that pulled the passenger-filled trailer behind it informed the police that he had been drinking before the accident and was given a breath test by the officers, registering a reading of .06.
The legal limit for driving in Michigan is .08.
The driver said he had consumed alcohol because it was his birthday.
Also in the report, the driver alleged that the passengers had moved to the left side of the trailer during the ride to throw hay at riders on another hayride traveling in the same area, though he had previously told them to remain seated.
Officers spoke with several riders, some of whom said passengers were not piled on one side of the trailer, but were evenly distributed when the accident occurred. Some passengers also said they did not hear anyone talking about throwing hay.
In a press release, Dearborn Department of Public Information Director Mary Laundroche said the city was informed by the Milford Fire Department on the day following the accident that nine people were transported to area hospitals, and that none of the injuries appeared to be life-threatening. She said riders said they were experiencing back and neck pain, bruises and scrapes and a possible broken jaw. All of the people transported to the hospital were adults.
All of the passengers on the hayride were associated with the Henry Ford Community College Support Staff Association, which had made arrangements for the group hayride.
The camp also posted a message on Facebook after the accident that said “there were injuries to some participants,” but that most riders “were treated on site and have since left the campground. Additional participants were alert yet transported via ambulance to a local hospital for further evaluation and treatment. Later scheduled hayrides proceeded without issue.”
Laundroche said that the city is working with Milford police to determine the cause of the accident.
She added that because the camp is located in Milford, that city’s fire department responded to the scene and its police department is the lead investigator on the incident.
Laundroche said Milford police have turned over the case to the Milford prosecutor’s office and that a determination on charges will be made soon.
Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. said the city is dedicated to determining the cause of the accident and expressed concern for those who were injured and who were participating in the hayride.
“We regret the accident involving some of our camp guests on Sunday, and hope for the quick and complete recovery from their injuries,” O’Reilly said. “We will take every action possible to make sure an accident like this is not repeated in the future.”
He also stated that Milford authorities “did an excellent job of treating people” at the scene.
Laundroche said the seasonal hayrides began in mid-September, with 50 trips offered. Another 60 trips were taken in the summer and about 2,500 people participated in hayrides this year.
Oct. 27 was the last night of fall hayrides at Camp Dearborn.
(Bob Oliver can be reached at [email protected])