Joy ride nearly ends in train track tragedy

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FALMOUTH — A Portland-based man is facing at least one felony charge for allegedly stealing a front-end loader from a parking lot at the Union Station Plaza on St. John Street and driving it up 6 miles of railroad track from Portland to Falmouth over the weekend.

Charles Ayres, 45, was arrested just off Blackstrap Road at around 8:20 a.m. on March 3 by the Falmouth Police, according to a press release. He’s facing one charge of felony theft, as well as charges of aggravated criminal mischief and driving to endanger, Lt. John Kilbride said Monday.

Kilbride said Pan Am is also investigating the incident and further charges may be pending, depending on whether Ayres caused any damage to the tracks during his joy ride.

Falmouth Police said two trains narrowly missed colliding with the front-end loader. One was a Downeaster passenger train and the other was a freight train that ended up making an emergency stop.

“Several tragedies were narrowly avoided,” Kilbride said this week. “It’s really amazing that no one got hurt because that heavy piece of equipment was certainly capable of derailing both trains. A lot could have gone wrong.”

Kilbride said there was no evidence of drug or alcohol use by Ayres, but he does have a history of mental illness.

He said the front-end loader, which is owned by Fox Property Services in Falmouth, had a plow attachment and was being used by the company to plow the parking lot at Union Station Plaza over the course of the winter.

Kilbride said the front-end loader is valued at about $50,000; it was returned to the owners after being processed at the scene. He said Falmouth Police were initially notified by Pan Am of the hazard Ayres was causing on the railroad tracks.

Several things are still unclear, Kilbride said, including whether Ayres actually drove the front-end loader up the tracks to Falmouth, although that’s what the facts indicate.

Ayres is now being held at the Cumberland County Jail in Portland and set to be arraigned Monday.

This front-end loader was stolen from the parking lot of Union Station Plaza in Portland and ended up nearly derailing two trains in Falmouth on the morning of March 3.