Tuesday, October 2, 2012

DA Seeks To Reinstate Charges Against Cunningham

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.

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Phil Brown

Phil Brown is the former Editor of 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.




3 Responses

  1. Dick Carlson Richard Carlson says:

    It is rare for any customers to request the “captain your own raft” option. It is strongly suggested by HRRC when they don’t have enough guides. Besides – the Hudson is inappropriate for any of that activity without extensive guide presence in kayaks or rafts. Many states have regulations and permits for commercial outfitters and private boaters alike. Unfortunately New York is not one of them. The original Trip Advisor review says it all total nightmare…http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g48283-d1537890-r41218041-Hudson_River_Rafting_Company-North_Creek_Lake_George_Region_New_York.html#REVIEWS

  2. Steve Murphy says:

    Commercial rafting on the Hudson was non-existent until the mid 70s. Before that time, the only paddlers were canoers and kayakers who at least had some sort of knowledge about what they were getting into. As any experienced canoe/kayaker knows, the Upper Hudson and Indian Rivers can be extremely challenging and dangerous.

    The entire proposition of taking complete novices through this kind of whitewater as if it is some sort of carnival ride, simply invites tragedy. It is amazing that anyone would take on this kind of responsibility. Many of the customers on these raft trips do not have a good grasp of the fact that they are actually risking their lives.

    Even with the most intrusive regulation, given the number of inexperienced people on the river, this kind of thing is going to happen. Perhaps the solution is not to regulate raft companies but to have some sort of screening process for customers. People who are obese, too old, too young, cannot swim adequately, and are otherwise unfit should really be on the rides in Lake George, not in the Hudson Gorge.

  3. Snowshoe steve says:

    I am pretty fat but go down with an outfitter most every summer. I am actually still a pretty good swimmer and know how to swim deffensivley and get to shore. I can’t imagine being told I cant go cause I carry an extra 40!