BANGOR, Maine — The widow of a Holden man killed three years ago in the Fourth of July parade when an antique firetruck struck him after its brakes failed has settled her wrongful death lawsuit against the city and the parade’s sponsor for an undisclosed amount.
Lorena Fenlason of Holden in March 2015 sued the city of Bangor, the Bangor Breakfast Kiwanis Club, which organized the parade, and Patrick Heathcote, the firefighter who was driving the firetruck on July 4, 2013, in Penobscot County Superior Court. Heathcote was dismissed from the case a few months later, according to court documents.
A notice of settlement, to be paid by insurance companies for the city and the Kiwanis Club, was signed June 30 by Superior Court Justice William Anderson but the details were not disclosed.
The settlement includes a confidentiality agreement with the Kiwanis Club, according to Fenlason’s attorney, Daniel Kagan of Lewiston and Bangor.
The city’s portion of the settlement is $390,000, attorney Fred Costlow of Bangor said Wednesday. State law limited the municipality’s damages to $400,000.
Wallace L. Fenlason of Holden died after he was knocked from the tractor he was riding when the brakes failed on the antique firetruck traveling behind him and it struck the 63-year-old man. Fenlason routinely rode his antique farm tractor in local parades. The parade was rerouted that day onto Water Street from its traditional route down Main Street to Exchange Street because of an armed standoff involving a man in an apartment and police on Park Street behind City Hall.
A Bangor police report released about a month after the accident concluded that insufficient brake fluid caused the antique braking system on the city’s 1930 McCann Pumper to fail.
Heathcote pushed so hard on the brakes while trying to stop the 12,800-pound pumper that he left pedal indents on the floorboards, according to a previously published report.
The lawsuit claimed the city and the club were negligent and violated safety rules that caused the antique firetruck to strike Fenlason.
Fenlason’s wife sought unspecified compensatory damages including funeral expenses, emotional distress, loss of comfort, society and companionship and punitive damages.
The lawsuit was filed to ensure that a similar accident never happened again, Kagan said Tuesday.
“The Fenlason family knew no lawsuit was going to bring Wally Fenlason back,” Kagan said. “Wally’s loss was felt in their family and in the community very deeply.
“Since then, every tragedy that happens and is in the news, whether at an amusement, a parade or a hayride, is like living through July 4, 2013, all over again for the family,” he said. “They felt very strongly that the lawsuit would uncover what went wrong so it wouldn’t be repeated.”
Through the discovery process, Kagan and the Fenlasons learned that the city of Bangor allowed the firetruck to be driven in the parade without first checking its brakes. A report determined that the fire truck’s braking system had too little brake fluid and what it had was contaminated with water.
They also learned that the parade organizers had not enforced the spacing requirements between units as parade organizers had promised on their parade application filed with the city.
“This accident happened because Bangor did not maintain the firetruck’s brakes, and it was too close to the tractor to avoid it,” Kagan said. “It’s the organization’s job to properly pace the parade and the space between units.”
Mike Robinson, president of the Bangor Breakfast Kiwanis Club, issued a statement Tuesday on the settlement.
“We are pleased that we have reached an amicable resolution to this unfortunate incident in a reasonable manner,” he said on behalf of the chapter. “We look forward to many more safe and enjoyable parades like the one we had yesterday.”
The city’s attorney on Wednesday said Bangor officials were pleased with the settlement.
“The city’s reached an amicable resolution with the family, and that was good for everyone,” he said.
“The Fenlasons settled this case once it became clear that the defendants understood what went wrong,” Kagan said. “This makes a repeat of what happened to Wally Fenlason far less likely in the future.”