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Bus Crash That Killed Teen Brings Calls For Increased Safety

A crash earlier this month that killed a teenage boy in the Adirondacks has brought calls on New York state government to increase oversight of the rafting and tubing industries. 

The crash that killed 15-year-old tubing guide Hunter Scofield on July 5th in Lake Luzerne is still under state police investigation, and many are now working to prevent similar accidents.

A decommissioned school bus carrying a group of guests ready for a trip on the upper Hudson overturned. Initially the driver of the bus had claimed the brakes had failed, although state police later revealed that they found no mechanical problems with the bus.

A man identified as James Sullivan of Newburgh has since started a petition at change.org to create a “New York State Tubing And Rafting Bus Transportation Act.” The petition, which had 85 supporters Thursday morning, calls on the state Department of Transportation to inspect all tubing and rafting buses every year. It also holds that drivers operating the buses should have a valid commercial driver’s license and proper training. The petition also calls for frequent safety checks and speed limits of 25-30 miles per hour on dirt roads.

Department of Transportation spokesman Beau Duffy said the state has a biannual inspection program for all school buses and chartered or hired buses. However, the decommissioned school buses used for transporting guests, such as in the rafting and tubing industry, fall under a different classification.

“The buses for the rafting companies are not for hire, they’re provided as courtesy transportation. They still have to be inspected once a year through DMV’s inspection program, but they’re not subject to our bus biannual inspection program,” said Duffy.

Duffy said the buses, along with other heavy trucks, would be subject to random roadside inspections, conducted by the DOT.

State Senator Betty Little offered her condolences to Scofield’s family and said she would support legislation to ensure proper safety, but also cautioned about the investigation still under way.

“Certainly once the investigation is completed if there is a need for legislation to be enacted so that we can prevent this from ever happening again, I certainly would be willing to look at that and to look at supporting it, and introducing legislation. But I think that we can’t jump to conclusions right now, but we do need to consider the entire investigation and what can be done,” said Little.

The Senator said she has previously introduced legislation to ensure rafting guides are properly licensed, but she was unsure if the language also relates to the tubing industry.

“I don’t know that that would apply to the tubing, but we’ll look at it, and that resolution, that piece of legislation that was introduced, we’re still working with the associations in regard to how it can be done appropriately,” said Little.

The editorial board of the Post-Star newspaper also called for more action in wake of the accident. The board urged that buses used in the rafting and tubing industry be classified as commercial by the state.

The accident has triggered an outpouring of support for the victim’s family. Friends have organized a 16th birthday party for Scofield, scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.