Pennsauken, NJ (Law Firm Newswire) November 17, 2014 – Area residents and officials are blaming congestion in the event parking lot for the tragedy.
October is a time of the year for enjoying the colorful beauty of fall foliage and the fruits of the autumn harvest. But the 31st annual Chester Harvest Festival, a popular and iconic seasonal event held at Alstede Farm in Morris County, New Jersey, turned tragic on October 12, when a child was killed and two adults seriously injured as the result of a motor vehicle accident in the facility’s parking lot.
Several people who were attending the yearly event at the Chester Township farm witnessed the afternoon collision between two shuttle buses, as well as the frantic aftermath in which first responders gave a young girl CPR. The efforts to save the 2-year-old girl did not succeed.
The buses also struck a number of other fairgoers, and ambulances and medivac helicopters arrived to whisk the multiple injured victims to area hospitals. One of the shuttle buses involved in the collision was hauled away with visible bumper damage.
Alstede Farm, a 600-acre, family-owned business that was established in 1982, offers 200 different fruits, vegetables and flowers. The farm is located on Route 513 across from Chubb Park. Tens of thousands of people visit the facility every year to shop, pick their own pumpkins and enjoy amusements like pony rides, hay rides and corn mazes. Weekends at the farm are particularly busy, and the Harvest Festival is one of several themed events, including festivals for blueberries, strawberries and peaches, that draw larger-than-normal crowds.
The weekend and festival throngs, as well as the traffic jams they generate, have been cause for concern for area residents and local officials, including Chester Mayor Bill Coggers, who said he has issued warnings about the congestion at the farm for years.
Coggers said that the situation surrounding the tragedy “was an accident waiting to happen,” and that he is “very frustrated” that the city cannot do more to address the problem because its hands are tied by the state’s Right to Farm Act.
The Right to Farm Act, unlike municipal ordinances, covers all commercial farms with income greater than $10,000. Despite the foregoing law, Coggers said that Chester has spent a significant amount of money to hire additional police officers, security personnel and parking assistants in an attempt to mitigate the congestion at the farm’s parking lot. The county has also worked with the farm to add turning lanes around the property.
“A fairly arcane law has made jurisdictional issues murkier,” said Steven Petrillo, a prominent Pennsauken personal injury attorney. “But regardless of whether state law or local law governs rural properties, a person who has been injured or killed on someone else's property may very well have a case for damages based on premises liability law.”
The Morris County prosecutor’s office is investigating the deadly accident that shook the community.
“It will be interesting to see if it is determined that negligence on the part of one or both of the shuttle bus drivers contributed to the accident,” Petrillo said. “By the time the full details of this tragedy are known, liability may end up being apportioned among multiple parties.”
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