FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Authorities are looking into whether a tour bus driver
bound for Las Vegas violated what’s popularly known as Arizona’s “Stupid
Motorist Law” when he drove into a flooded wash after a trip to the Grand
Canyon’s west rim.
Flash floodwaters swept the bus _with 33 people aboard_ hundreds of yards down
a northwestern Arizona wash Sunday. The vehicle flipped on its side onto an
embankment, and the passengers escaped on their own uninjured.
Mohave County sheriff’s spokeswoman Trish Carter said Monday that authorities
are determining whether a 1995 law requiring that drivers pay for emergency
response when they cross flooded areas applies in this situation.
“A lot of people will cross when it’s an inch or two or three. I can’t say
whether it was that low or not,” she said. “The bus saw a passenger vehicle go
through. I’m sure I’m thinking `the bigger I am, the more I can do.”
Bessy Lee, marketing manager for the bus owner, C.H. Destination in Las Vegas,
said charging the driver under the law would be an insult. She said Joseph
Razon, 52, had no warning about danger through signage or traffic control and
made a careful choice to cross the water.
Lee noted that no one was hurt and said the company hadn’t received any warning
about the possibility of flash flooding in the area.
But the company official added that the firm, which has done business since
2007 as Canyon Coach Lines, would improve training “to prevent future issues of
It’s questionable whether the “Stupid Motorist Law” would apply because the
area wasn’t barricaded, and another section requires that a person be convicted
of reckless driving before having to pay up to $2,000 for emergency response or
The bus company paid to tow the bus from the site and sent another bus to
retrieve the passengers. Lee said the damaged bus was new, in service for just
three months and cost $600,000.
Firefighters and paramedics from surrounding communities, the National Park
Service and law enforcement were dispatched to the scene about 1:50 p.m. Sunday.
Any decision whether to file charges would be made by the Mohave County
The National Transportation Safety Board wasn’t planning to investigate the
crash, said Kelly Nantel, a spokeswoman for the federal agency. Nantel said the
board focuses when it can on serious accidents and emerging or new safety
Razon had taken the tourists to the Hualapai reservation on the Grand Canyon’s
west rim, where a horseshoe-shaped glass bridge juts out from the canyon’s
walls. The company runs multiple tour buses per day to the popular tourist
The drive to and from Las Vegas is about 125 miles, and takes 21/2 hours over
paved and dirt roads.
The numerous washes, or dry desert riverbeds, in the area flooded so quickly
that county officials didn’t have time to put up temporary signs warning of
immediate danger, Mohave County Public Works director Steve Latoski said.
Permanent signs to and from the turnoff to the Grand Canyon Skywalk on Pierce
Ferry Road warn drivers that washes may become flooded, he said.
“That sign is very prominently displayed, it’s maintained in good condition,”
he said. “I would have every expectation that sign would have been visible to
the driver. He passed the sign, absolutely.”
The National Weather Service had issued a flash flood warning just before noon
Sunday for Arizona’s Mohave County because of thunderstorms in the area,
meteorologist Chris Stumpf in Las Vegas said. The warning was extended twice,
before it was allowed to expire at 4:15 p.m.
The warning specifically referred to roads that take tourists to and from the
Grand Canyon Skywalk, Stumpf said. Sheriff’s deputies had reported water on the
roadway at about 1:15 p.m., he said.
Lee said it wasn’t raining when Razon stopped the bus and, along with the tour
leader, gauged whether it was safe to cross the watery wash. They saw other
vehicles make it across before Razon began to slowly drive through the water.
“He was protecting the passengers and the bus,” Lee said. “Just as he was
halfway, that’s when the flood of mud and water smacked into the side of the bus
and washed it 300 yards down.”
Efforts to reach Razon weren’t immediately successful. Lee said she spoke with
company chief David Huang and Razon, and she would not make Razon available for
A company official said Razon has worked for the company since 2005 and had a
clean driving record. Arizona court records show that Razon pleaded guilty to
speeding on U.S. 93, the highway that dozens of tour bus companies from Las
Vegas take daily to the Skywalk, while operating one of the company’s buses.
Ritter reported from Las Vegas.