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Judge should decide fate of attorney general case against rafting company

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The state attorney general’s office should know next month whether its case to close the Hudson River Rafting Co. permanently will proceed.

The attorney general’s office is seeking a permanent injunction to close the company’s operations at 424 Newell St., Watertown, and rafting trips in the Moose River, Hudson River and Sacandaga River following the death during a rafting trip in September in the Adirondack Mountains.

Last fall, the state Department of Environmental Conservation shut down the company at the urging of the attorney general’s office after a Columbus, Ohio, woman died in a rafting accident Sept. 27 on the Indian River in Hamilton County.

State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Giardino must determine whether to allow the case to proceed with a hearing, attorney general’s spokeswoman Michelle C. Hook said. The lawyer for the rafting company has until March 8 to file additional court documents that respond to written arguments that the attorney general’s office filed earlier this month, she said.

In November, DEC suspended owner Patrick J. Cunningham’s guide license and ordered the North Creek company to stop running whitewater rafting trips at all of his operations.

State police arrested the rafting guide, Rory F. Fay, 37, North Creek, on a charge of criminally negligent homicide, accusing him of being drunk during the rafting trip. Two weeks ago, he was given a one-year sentence in the Hamilton County jail after pleading guilty to that charge.

The woman, Tamara Blake, 53, fell out of the raft Mr. Fay was guiding, state police said.

Mr. Fay and Ms. Blake were ejected when the raft hit rapids. Her friend, 53-year-old Richard Clar, also of Columbus, stayed with the raft and eventually steered it to shore. Mr. Fay made it to shore. Ms. Blake’s body was found five miles downstream in the Hudson River.

According to court documents, the attorney general’s office alleges the company:

■ Failed to provide guides licensed by DEC for rafting on the Moose River, Black River and Hudson River.

■ Failed to provide guides for rafting excursions when customers did not sign requests to captain their own crafts.

■ Failed to give refunds when all promised services were not provided.

■ Failed to provide safe rafting trips as advertised.

■ Failed to provide guides with licenses to drive a bus to transport customers to and from the rafting sites.

In a separate case, Mr. Cunningham was acquitted in January of two counts of reckless endangerment in connection with rafting trips last spring on the Hudson River. He was accused of getting out of the raft before it reached its destination, so the clients had to fend for themselves. Over the past five years, his guides also have received a dozen tickets for unlicensed rafting trips.

For the past 30 years, Hudson River Rafting has offered seven-mile rafting trips on the Black River on Class III and Class IV rapids from May until Columbus Day. According to the company’s website, the company promised safe rafting excursions and said “the staff and equipment are top-notch.”

Three other companies — Adirondack River Outfitters, B.O.B. Rafting and Whitewater Challengers — offer whitewater rafting on the Black River.

Mr. Cunningham’s attorney, Jason T. Britt, Glens Falls, was out of the office Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

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