It was approximately 2:45 p.m. on Saturday when Marvin Tarbox Jr., a 59-year-old Shriner from Hancock, flipped his go-cart off a mobile ramp during the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest Parade. The ramp, attached to the roof of a 1990 GMC Suburban, failed, causing Mr. Tarbox to flip end over end and his bare head to strike the pavement.

He was subsequently hit by the go-carts of two Shriners who were driving behind him and unaware of the accident. Paramedics rushed Tarbox to Miles Memorial Hospital where he was declared dead, according to the Newcastle sheriff's deputies.

Matt Ryan, a good friend of mine from high school, came up to visit this fall break. Matt's in his fourth year at West Point and had a rare long weekend for Columbus Day.

On Saturday afternoon we were driving north to Head Tide to go trout fishing, but decided to make a quick stop along the way. We turned off of Route 1 at about 2:30 p.m. and the traffic headed into Newcastle was at a complete standstill.

We were a couple dozen cars back behind a curve from the Main Street. After a few minutes, Matt got out to see what was causing the holdup and returned a few minutes after that. He leaned through the passenger window with a smug grin.

"Twenty guesses, Dave. You'll never figure out why we're stopped."

"I dunno, the line at Red's finally reached here?" I was still sore about the heavy traffic from the lobster shack in Wiscasset.

"Nope. A pumpkin parade."

"You're kidding me."

"It's a parade alright. They've got kids marching and guys zooming around in little cars and pumpkins on fire engines and stuff. "

He couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity.

"I bet this is some Maine joke thing, 'All the outsiders are coming! Everybody dress up, this is our chance to block traffic and irritate them!'" I threw open the door.

"Get in the car. We'll hike in."

We navigated out of the line of cars and circled back for a parking spot. We heard sirens on the long walk into town while Matt elaborated on his parade conspiracy. I assumed they were just part of the festivities.

It was nearly 2:50 p.m. when we rounded the corner onto Main Street and saw the aftermath of the crash. The green and yellow suburban was stopped, eight police officers were clustered in front of the car and blood snaked down the inclined road.

Several dozen people stayed and watched the scene. Some parents rushed away with their children, others remained and looked on.

There was about a 50-yard break between the accident and the rest of the parade, which continued to march and cheer and sing over the bridge into Damariscotta.

As we walked by, I could see that the officers were pulling a man out from under a mangled go-cart. He was old, with graying hair and a scruffy beard. His eyes were closed and his arms splayed out at odd angles. His skull had cracked open near his hairline and poured blood onto the blacktop; it was close to 20 feet down now. The officers maneuvered his body onto a waiting stretcher.

Shocked, Matt and I kept walking. We overheard snippets of conversation: "...put your camera away, sweetie...," "Is he dead? He looks dead, do you think he's dead...," "I wonder if they'll still do the pumpkin boat race tomorrow..."

We eventually caught up with the parade and the cheering crowd which was oblivious to the events up the road. A cheerleader atop a fire engine pelted us with Tootsie Pops before we retreated inside a nearby store.

The parade was over by this point, but the news had traveled quickly. We ate hot dogs and looked out from the pier before heading back up the road.

The talk was different now. A group of 10-year-olds joked about how he was sent to the "hospital morgue."

The girl with the camera was now explaining to her parents that she "deleted all the pictures, why would I even want them now anyway?"

The police had taped off the scene and the body was gone. A blue tarp covered much of the blood.

A troupe of bagpipers from the parade played the dirge "Lochaber No More" from a nearby balcony. We returned to the car and continued on to the fishing spot.

Before Saturday, I had had the good fortune to never have seen a recently deceased person lying front of me. I'm sure many of the others in the crowd could say the same.

I walked through a graveyard daily when I lived in the Pine Street Apartments, but had only faced death in the abstract.

It's easy to forget the fragility of human life, the vulnerability of the human body. After the moment of impact I couldn't reckon much difference between a skull and a pumpkin.

We didn't catch anything at Head Tide. On the way back we passed several graveyards along the Coastal Route. I wondered if Marvin Tarbox would be buried in one; I wondered if I would be too.

-David Shuck