Just three weeks after the DA's action came the death of an Ohio woman who was a passenger in a raft guided by one of Cunningham's employees.
State police have charged the guide, Rory Fay of North Creek, with criminally negligent homicide for allegedly operating the raft while intoxicated.
Phil Brown is editor of the Adirondack Explorer magazine and he's been following this story closely. He joined Martha Foley on the line.
Remind us what happened September 27th. The woman from Ohio drowned while on a guided trip. What do authorities think happened there?
Well, yeah. That’s correct. Her name was Tammy Blake. She was in her 50s. A mother, a grandmother, and she was rafting with her boyfriend, the only two customers in the raft. And they put in on the Indian River and were heading down the Hudson when apparently they were going through some rapids and the guide was ejected as well as the woman. The guide was able to make it to shore. The woman was swept downstream and eventually her body was found about five miles away in the Hudson River.
So this isn't the first time that authorities have made accusations against Hudson River Rafting of wrongdoing. The District Attorney Marsha Purdue wants to reopen a case from 2010. Why? Why go back to those charges? What does she say Cunningham’s been doing wrong? This death came after her action.
In 2010, Pat Cunningham was indicted on two misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment and basically, you know, accused of sending people down through the Hudson Gorge, which is a pretty serious whitewater. And rafts are overloaded beyond their capacity in one case, and another case, he was accused of sending people—inexperienced people—down the Gorge in inflatable kayaks. People without white waterexperience.
But why does she want to reopen the case now?
Well, the case was disposed of through what’s known as "adjournment in contemplation of dismissal", and basically the judge said that if Pat Cunningham kept his nose clean for 6 months, the charges would be dismissed. And as part of that agreement, or as part of that resolution, Cunningham had agreed not to send people down the Hudson in unguided rafts. And Marsha Purdue, the District Attorney, is now saying that he violated that agreement, and so she’s seeking to reinstate the charges.
Have you been able to talk with Pat Cunningham about this? What does he say?
Well, I’ve talked to him briefly a couple times. Basically, his argument is that people have the right to go down the Hudson River however they choose. And if people want to go down the river in an unguided raft, they’re welcome to do that. If they want to go down in an inflatable kayak, they’re welcome to do that. There’s nothing illegal about it. That’s his contention. However, he did have this agreement with the court, and so the issue here is whether or not he violated that agreement.
Rafting is big business on the upper Hudson. Not just Patrick Cunningham’s company. A lot of guides and companies earn their living there. What’s that community saying about this?
Well, there’s always some concern when you have a death on the river. You know, that’s bad publicity and, you know, is that going to affect business for other guides? And then the arrest of, or the indictment of Pat Cunningham in 2010 also raised concerns, you know? Is that going to reflect badly on the other guides? Mary Thill, a freelance writer did an article for the Adirondack Life a few years ago about Pat Cunningham and in that article, there were concerns expressed about Hudson River Rafting Company's practices.