The owner of a rafting company in the spotlight after a drowning last week is accused of violating a court agreement stemming from criminal charges lodged two years ago, according to court papers.
Patrick J. Cunningham, the owner of the Hudson River Rafting Company, was indicted in November 2010 on misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment.
In one count, Cunningham was accused of sending two customers downriver in an inflatable kayak even though they lacked kayak and whitewater experience. Free-lance writer Mary Thill reported last year that the customers capsized in the second rapid and then hitched a ride in an overloaded raft, which also flipped.
In the other count, Cunningham was accused of putting children and counselors from a summer camp in overloaded rafts with an insufficient number of guides. Thill reported that several campers ended up hiking to a road when their raft became bogged down in shallow water.
From the start, Cunningham denied any wrongdoing. He told the Adirondack Explorer that customers sometimes ask to captain their own rafts and “I believe that’s legal in every river in the United States.”
Earlier this year, Hamilton County Court Judge S. Peter Feldstein agreed to adjourn the case in contemplation of dismissal. Essentially, this meant the charges would be dropped if Cunningham kept his nose clean for six months—until September 29.
One condition of the agreement was that Cunningham would not allow any customer to ride in a raft without a guide unless the customer signed a waiver in which he or she agreed to captain the raft.
Hamilton County District Attorney Marsha Purdue contends that Cunningham violated the court agreement twice, and she has asked the judge to restore the charges. In a motion dated September 5, obtained by the Adirondack Explorer and Adirondack Almanack, Purdue asserts:
- That on May 27, Cunningham was guiding a raft on the Hudson with two customers but exited the raft during the trip, “leaving his customers without a guide for the last four miles of the ride.” Purdue says a guide from another rafting company witnessed the customers alone in the raft.
- That on August 26, Cunningham sent two customers on a trip in an inflatable kayak even though they did not sign a waiver.
The motion is scheduled to be heard next Wednesday, October 10, according to the court clerk’s office.
The motion is not related to last week’s fatality. In that case, one of Cunningham’s guides, Rory F. Fay, is charged with criminally negligent homicide, a felony. State Police say he was intoxicated when he and a customer were ejected from a raft on the Indian River. The customer, Tamara F. Blake of Ohio, was later found drowned five miles downstream in the Hudson.
The death occurred two days before Cunningham’s six-month adjournment was to expire.
Photo of the Hudson Gorge copyright by Carl Heilman II.