EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

November 19, 2012

Whitewater guide keeps license

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York kept the owner of Hudson River Rafting Co. on its list of 2,500 licensed outdoor guides, despite two charges against him of reckless endangerment and a dozen other tickets citing his guides with unlicensed whitewater trips over the past five years.

That’s because New York — unlike many states, the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service — regulates the guides themselves, not the companies. That focus, critics say, allows companies to continue operating even when their guides have endangered any of the thousands of outdoors-lovers who engage their services.

In addition, New York rarely revokes the licenses of guides.

In one deadly case this fall, a Columbus, Ohio, woman drowned on one of the company’s Adirondack whitewater trips headed by licensed guide Rory Fay, 37. Fay was charged with criminally negligent homicide, accused of rafting drunk when he and client Tamara Blake, 53, were thrown into the rapids of the Indian River on Sept. 27. Her boyfriend was also on the boat.

Meanwhile, owner Patrick Cunningham again faces reckless endangerment charges after he allegedly left to fend for themselves a raft of clients he was personally guiding this spring. The New York attorney general has since shut down his rafting business, and the state subsequently suspended Cunningham’s and Fay’s guide licenses.

On a whitewater trip just a month earlier, on Aug. 26, 2012, two Hudson River Rafting clients were put into an inflatable kayak when its guided rafts were full. They capsized twice in 15 minutes.

“I began hitting rock after rock in the rapids and suffered significant bruising and cuts to my legs,” said Richard Belson in a court affidavit. “At one point I was dragged under the water by the current and had great difficulty getting back to the surface.”

Cunningham and his lawyer Jason Britt have challenged the court-ordered shutdown but declined several requests to discuss the case. An early Adirondack rafting guide, he has taken thousands of clients down the Hudson over three decades. He and Fay denied the criminal charges. Whitewater kayakers often ride the rapids on their own, without guides.

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