Monday, November 26, 2012

Rafting Guide Admits Negligent Homicide Charge

A whitewater rafting guide pleaded guilty today to criminally negligent homicide and two other charges arising from the accidental drowning of a client in the Indian River this fall.

Rory Fay of North Creek, 37, admitted in Hamilton County Court that he was intoxicated on the morning he and a client were thrown from their raft.

The body of the victim—Tamara F. Blake, 53, of Columbus, Ohio—was found five miles downstream in the Hudson River. Blake’s boyfriend, Richard J. Clar, 53, also of Columbus, managed to stay in the raft and steer it to shore.

In addition to the felony homicide charge, Fay pleaded guilty to aggravated unlicensed operation and driving while intoxicated, both misdemeanors.

Hamilton County District Attorney Marsha Purdue said Fay admitted driving the clients in a van without a license and while under the influence of alcohol.

Fay has been in jail since his arrest on September 27, the day of the accident. He is scheduled to be sentenced January 10.

Under a plea agreement, Purdue said, Fay will be sentenced to six months in jail and five months of probation on the homicide charge, a year in jail on the DWI charge, and a shorter sentence on the unlicensed operation charge.  The jail sentences will run concurrently, meaning Fay will spend a maximum of a year behind bars. He also will give up his guide’s license.

Fay worked for the Hudson River Rafting Company, which offers whitewater trips on the Black, Moose, and Sacandaga rivers as well as through the Hudson Gorge.

The company’s owner, Pat Cunningham, faces legal troubles of his own. He is scheduled to be tried in January on two misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment for allegedly sending clients on trips down the Hudson without proper supervision. Also, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has filed a lawsuit seeking to shut down his rafting business.

As part of his plea deal, Fay has agreed to cooperate with the district attorney’s office. He also agreed not to drink alcohol for five years.

Phil Brown

Phil Brown

Since 1999, Phil Brown has been Editor of the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack.

Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing.

He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.

Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.


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17 Responses

  1. Bill Ott says:

    Here is a link to a Columbus, Ohio news article about this tragic accident:
    http://www.10tv.com/content/stories/2012/10/01/reynoldsburg-whitewater-rafting-death.html

    Bill Ott
    Lakewood, Ohio

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  2. Tim says:

    Only one year for being responsible for someone’s death??!!

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    • Bill Ott says:

      Tim, you are so right. People spend more time in jail for lesser crimes. I wonder how the other outfitters feel about this.
      Bill Ott
      Lakewood, Ohio

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      • John says:

        Jail isn’t always the answer guys. I’m certain the man is going to suffer enough as it is the rest of his life. Forgiveness is an important virtue.

        Besides, was he 100% responsible? As far as I’m concerned, if you go on any kind of adventurous trip, you should at least know how to take care of yourself. Lord knows I wouldn’t put myself completely in the hands of a guide!

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  3. Phil Brown Phil Brown says:

    Since writing this post, I received copies of the court documents pertaining to Fay’s plea (they were unavailable yesterday). In pleading guilty to the felony, Fay admitted that he operated the raft while intoxicated. The exact wording:

    “The said defendant, on or about the 27th day of September, 2012, in the Town of Indian Lake, County of Hamilton and State of New York, did in a criminally negligent manner operate a guide raft in an intoxicated condition which was caused by his consumption of alcohol while on the Indian River with Tamara F. Blake as a paying customer, who was ejected from the boat and drowned as a result of the defendant’s criminally negligent actions.”

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  4. Mike says:

    Phil, Mr. Fey pleaded guilty to three counts against him: the Class E Felony Homicide charge which has maximum 4 year sentence; the aggravated unlicensed operation; and driving while intoxicated. It is interesting that the homicide charge resulted in a lighter penalty than the DWI offence.

    Perhaps the court considered the inherent risk of drowning as part of the activity of whitewater rafting a class III-IV river?

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    • Bill Ott says:

      Interesting – if Mr.Fey were sober, would there have been any penalty? And do we know the whole story? I venture not. Just imagination some of the scenarios that would be terribly wrong to air now, even if they could be true.
      Bill Ott
      Lakerwood, Ohio

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    • Phil Brown says:

      That is curious. I don’t know the thinking behind the sentences. But usually a sentence is a minimum-maximum range, with the minimum one-third of the max. So for the homicide charge, it would be 1 1/3 to 4. If he serves a year, that will be close to the minimum of the maximum sentence under the law, if that makes sense. Of course, he may end up serving less than a year. I assume he will get credit for time served. We hope to answer all these questions in the next issue of the Explorer.

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  5. Moose says:

    So he didn’t even have a valid drivers license? Yet he drove the clients, truck and trailer drunk? I think his employer is culpable as well. He should know if his employee has a drivers license if that is part of his work condition. Also did any other employees see Mr Faye that morning. With such weak criminal fines/sentence this is the excat reason we have civil courts. A wrongfull death suit will put this company out of business!

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  6. Charlotte says:

    Usually a plea like this, with a relatively light sentence, means the prosecution felt its case was not a slam dunk if it went to trial. The prosecution may have had to dangle a carrot–the light sentence–as incentive to get the defendant to plead. Still, in my view, this sentence is disturbingly paltry given the seriousness of the crime. An innocent woman, looking forward to a fun day rafting, hired a supposedly professional guide to help ensure the safety of her trip and ended up dead because of the guide’s drunkenness.

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  7. AdkGuide says:

    I’ve been a licensed raft guide in NYS for 12 years and have worked for a number of outfitters on the Hudson and Black Rivers. In order to be covered by the outfitter’s insurance policy when operating vehicles like passenger vans, I was required each year to provide a copy of my current driver’s license, even if I was not transporting paying customers. The insurance company approves each driver that is listed on the company’s policy on a case-by-case basis. If a guide has previously been charged with an offense like DUI/DWI, the insurance company would not allow that driver to be covered under the outfitter’s insurance policy.

    In other words, Cunningham should have known that Rory Fay did not have a valid driver’s license. He obviously put his customers in a vehicle with Fay despite this knowledge.

    Hopefully a civil lawsuit will be filed that will put Pat Cunningham out of business. His complete disregard for customer safety and the quality of their rafting experience has gone on long enough. Its just plain shameful.

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  8. Bill says:

    I am not privy to any information about this particular case other than what i have read here. But I think the sentence information should read “six months in jail and five years probation” as that is the standard term of probation for a felony in NYS. Also, if his jail term is equal to one year he will serve 8 months less anytime already served. This is due to the fact that the term is reduced by 1/3 for “good time” which is almost impossible not to get in county jails.

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  9. Grace says:

    I have been a full time commercial guide for ten years now. I have worked in TN, WV, and CO as a paid commercial guide and trip leader. First I do not understand why a rookie was on a one boat trip. I have worked at many companies and all of them required at least 1000 miles of experience CO, or three years experience TN WV. I would never let my best rook take a one boat trip. If the state is responsible for lisencure they should be responsible for that major oversight in regulation.
    Two every company I have ever worked for kept a copy of my drivers lisence on file. That is usually a day one requitement along with social security card. The company sent him on the trip knowing he wasn’t lisenced and should be held just as liable.
    Three if he was a rookie then you must understand that at rafting companies rookies are treated similarly to freshman in a frat. Yes he could have said no to the trip, but that would be committing job suicide. I would like to know if he was still drunk from the night before or if he was drinking before the trip. He did make a stupid call, but the company manager or owner had the authority, and should be held more responsible not less.
    Last the water was low and they were running a class three section. The woman may have claimed she could swim, but I would guess she hit the water freaked out and did nothing to help herself. Most any good swimmer could get them selves to shore if they tried in low water class three. A lot of ppl go rafting who have no physical business being in a raft. Before you go rafting remember its not Disney world your guide cannot pull a switch and stop the ride. It is inherently dangerous, and you must understand that the person most responsible for saving you IS YOU!

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    • Bill Ott says:

      Grace: Watch the video clip on the link on my first post. At the end if it, it mentions a “red flag” of Rory Fey driving erratically on the way to the launch. You outline your stuff very clearly. What is on that clip should be part of it.
      Bill Ott

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