Snowmobiler Not Dead

SKOWHEGAN – Garrett Gardiner, 19, of Canaan did not die of blunt force trauma to the head as a result of a snowmobile crash Sunday night.

Dana Craven of the Maine Warden Service said Gardiner did not lose control of his sled while crossing a narrow bridge on ITS-87 in Skowhegan. Volunteer medics pronounced him alive at the scene.

Craven said alcohol and excessive speed were not factors.

This was not the scene along ITS-87 in Skowhegan Sunday night.

The news sent shock waves through this small central Maine community, where reckless snowmobiling is an integral part of the local culture.

The few relatives who were willing to talk to the media Monday described Gardiner as “a nice kid” and “pretty careful, for his age.”

Friends say they’ll always remember him as a “pansy,” noting that he always wears a helmet and carefully steers around open water on nearby Sebasticook Lake.

“We call him Grandma Getty,” said Robert Carlisle, also of Canaan. “Seriously, the boy needs to grow some stones.”

While nearly all of Gardiner’s friends spend their weekends racing around sharp curves, catapulting themselves into trees as their sleds flip end-over-end; or trying to zip across open water, only to sink and end up washing ashore in the spring, half decomposed, Gardiner says he prefers a low-key, peaceful ride so he can relax and reflect.

“He’ll still be a virgin when he’s 35,” predicts Carlisle.

Gardiner’s non-lethal ride comes during an already record-breaking season for snowmobiler survival, raising questions about safety standards and concerns for the sport’s long-term viability.

“We depend on three things,” said Leonard Tibbets, President of the “Skowhegan Sno Hawks” snowmobile club, an organization that apparently thought leaving the “w” off of “snow” would somehow command greater respect among the general public. “One: Lots of snow. Two: a 70-year-old guy sucking coffee brandy from a thermos while he tools along in his trail grooming tractor at 5 o’clock in the morning. And Three: foolish teenagers trying to impress their friends with asinine stunts.”

Tibbets said that without those three things, the sport is “dead.”

“Obviously, any young person surviving a snowmobile ride is a tragedy,” Tibbets concluded, “but maybe the silver lining is that others will learn from his mistake.”

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