Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Oufitter: ‘No Idea’ Guide Was Drunk

The owner of the Hudson River Rafting Company said today he couldn’t comment on a fatal accident on the Indian River last week other than to assert that he did not know if the employee guiding the raft was intoxicated.

“We had no idea he was drunk,” Pat Cunningham said, “and I don’t know all that happened.”

State Police say the guide, Rory Fay of North Creek, was indeed intoxicated when he undertook the whitewater trip last Thursday morning. They arrested him on a charge of criminally negligent homicide, a class E felony.

Tamara Blake, 53, of Columbus, Ohio, was ejected from the raft about twenty minutes into the trip. Her body was later found in the Hudson River five miles downstream.

“She was swept away so fast that they lost sight of her,” State Police Captain John Tibbitts said today.

An autopsy at Adirondack Medical Center has confirmed that Blake died from asphyxiation due to drowning, Tibbitts said. He wasn’t aware of other injuries that might have contributed to her death.

Blake and Fay were both thrown from the raft, but Fay managed to get to shore. Blake’s friend, Richard Clar, 53, also of Columbus, stayed in the raft and steered it to land. Tibbitts said Clar couldn’t find Blake or Fay, so he flagged down a car and reported the accident to State Police in Indian Lake.

Tibbitts said troopers could tell Fay was intoxicated by his appearance, his behavior, and his breath.  After an arraignment, Fay was sent to the Hamilton County Jail in lieu of $50,000 bail or $100,000 bond. As of this morning, he was still in jail, according to Marsha Purdue, the county’s district attorney.

Purdue said Fay waived a preliminary hearing, at least for now, but is scheduled to appear in court next Tuesday.

In another matter, Purdue is seeking to reinstate a pair of reckless-endangerment charges against Cunningham. He was indicted in 2010 for sending clients down the Hudson in inflatable kayaks and unguided rafts. This past March, the case was adjourned in contemplation of dismissal. Under a court agreement, the charges would be dropped if Cunningham kept his nose clean for six months—until September 29.

As reported earlier on Adirondack Almanack, Purdue contends that Cunningham violated the court agreement by again sending parties downriver in an unguided raft and an inflatable kayak.

“Our office developed concerns about the actions of the Hudson River Rafting Company on the river and whether those actions violated the conditions of the agreement,” Purdue said this morning.

In early September she filed a motion to reinstate the charges. The County Court is scheduled to hear from Purdue and Cunningham’s attorney next Wednesday.

Cunningham would not comment on the motion except to say the charges should be dismissed.

He added that the public has the right to go down rivers however they choose. “A person can go down the Hudson River Gorge, and they don’t have to hire a commercial outfitter,” he said.

 Photo of Hudson Gorge by Carl Heilman II.

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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.

6 Responses

  1. Richard Carlson says:

    Yeah – let’s also rent automobiles and motorcycles to people who don’t know how to operate them. Whitewater is foreign to most people (many have not even been in moving water before), and whitewater skills are not intuitive at all. When Summer rafting began on the Hudson we thought (incorrectly) we would have to “entertain” guests more because the water would be lower. So, we brought a ducky (inflatable kayak) and even an inner tube on a trip for folks to use in some of the milder rapids. They were going all over the place, right into holes and rocks that were obvious to a whitewater person. We never did it again. The Indian/Hudson is adventure class whitewater at any level. The original Hudson outfitter – Northern Outdoors from Maine – tried small unguided rafts on the Indian back in the 1980’s. They didn’t get far down the Indian, rafts were stuck in trees and on rocks everywhere – the owner pulled all the rafts off the river and replaced them with the traditional guided large raft.

  2. Moose says:

    What arrogance by Mr Cunningham!

  3. Glenn L. Pearsall says:

    Since DEC licenses guides, do they have any culpability here? Seems to me that if they are collecting money for guide licenses they have some responsibility to insure that guides are well trained, competetent and able to do the job.

  4. Jimmy says:

    I sincerely hope the courts apply the standard that Pat Cunningham “knew or should have known” that his employee was intoxicated and unfit for work that day. The flip side of a business owner making a profit from his employees work is that the business owner is accountable for their actions. Cunningham does not get to slip the leash on this tragedy.

  5. Michael McGuire says:

    I have to bring up personal accountability. My wife and I went on our first rafting trip ever this past summer on the Hudson. We booked our trip with HRRC. When we showed up the place looked run down and not well cared for and we were immediately a little suspicious. We went for it anyway. There was only one other couple on the trip that day. When we geared up our guide took us through the rules and safety measures almost like a drill sergeant. He was fantastic. He put the fear of god in us that if we didn’t pay attention we could be in serious trouble. Before we paddled out he drilled us five times until we got his commands and if any one of us wasn’t holding the paddle correctly he called us out. This lasted the whole trip. We totally trusted him, and had a great time because of it.
    The other thing he did the whole trip was point out what some of the other guides from the other more “state of the art” rafting companies were doing, both correctly and well, incorrectly at best. He explained why he made the choices he did, for example; We avoided what looked like a fun part of a rapid but was too rough for us only to watch another guide, who looked to be all of a gum chewing 16 years old, with a raft full of …children…spin in huge circle straight through the very same spot only to get stuck. Then we watched as he proceeded to get stuck twice more. Did I mention he had a boat full of children?
    My point is simply this; if your guide does not take you through a serious safety drill ahead of time, don’t get in the boat. If you have a bad feeling that isn’t assuaged by command and communication, don’t get in the boat. If your guide reeks of alcohol, don’t get in the boat.

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