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Watertown rafting company may lose its state license after Adirondack Mountain death

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The owner of Hudson River Rafting Co. may have to close his Watertown operation if he loses his license following a rafting death in the Adirondack Mountains last month.

Last week, the state Department of Environmental Conservation suspended owner Patrick J. Cunningham’s guide license and ordered the North Creek company to stop running whitewater rafting trips. The action will affect the company’s Black River operation at 424 Newell St. and rafting trips in the Moose River, Hudson River and Sacandaga River.

DEC took the action at the urging of the state attorney general’s office in the aftermath of a Columbus, Ohio, woman’s death in a rafting accident Sept. 27 on the Indian River in Hamilton County.

State police subsequently 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. His license has also been suspended.

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.

DEC spokeswoman Charsleissa King wrote in an email message that Mr. Cunningham’s license could be revoked if he broke applicable laws.

DEC rangers issued tickets to the company’s owner for his operation in North Creek when he used unlicensed guides there, Ms. King said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Cunningham said the 2012 rafting season has ended and he hopes to deal with the license situation before next season. He declined to comment about Ms. Blake’s death and the accusations against Mr. Fay.

His attorney, Jason T. Britt, Glens Falls, also would not talk about the license, saying DEC had not yet notified him about its action.

The state attorney general’s office is also seeking a permanent injunction to stop the rafting company from operating at all four of its sites following several complaints about licensing.

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 staff and equipment are top notch.”

In 1985, two Buffalo-area women in a Hudson River Rafting Co. raft drowned in an accident near Watertown during a run along the Black River.

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

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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