As a Las Vegas tour bus company hailed one of its drivers for his calm under pressure, authorities were looking into whether the man violated what’s popularly known as Arizona’s “Stupid Motorist Law” by driving into a flooded wash.
No one was hurt when the Las Vegas bound bus carrying 32 members of a Chinese tour group was washed from Pierce Ferry Road and tipped on its side roughly 90 miles southeast of Las Vegas on Sunday afternoon.
In a statement issued Monday, tour bus company Canyon Coach Lines defended driver Joseph Razon and offered a dramatic account of what he did to keep the accident from ending in tragedy.
According to the company, Razon stopped when he saw water and debris on the road, but he decided it was safe to proceed after seeing a car drive through and consulting with the passengers and tour guide. As the bus slowly made its way across it was “T-boned” without warning by a larger flood.
That’s when Razon apparently began steering the floating vehicle.
“Due to the experience of our driver and his professionalism, he was able to maneuver the motor coach to create a full stop and then tip the bus at an angle to allow the passengers to exit the bus safely to high dry ground,” the statement says.
The company called Razon’s actions “a true testament to the type of drivers we employ, as their immediate concern is always for the safety of the passengers, as well as the surrounding environment.”
Officials in Arizona don’t seem to be buying it.
Pat Moore, chief of the Northern Arizona Consolidated Fire District, said the company’s statement contains “several inaccuracies,” including that bus passengers waited more than an hour for emergency responders to arrive. Call logs show the first rescue personnel were there in 17 minutes, he said.
“I don’t want to get into a mud throwing contest. If they think someone can steer a floating tour bus, so be it,” Moore said.
Authorities are now reviewing whether the driver may have broken a law that requires drivers to pay for emergency response when they cross flooded areas, Mohave County sheriff’s spokeswoman Trish Carter said Monday.
But Bessy Lee, the marketing manager for the bus company, said charging the driver under the law would be insulting because there were no warning signs posted anywhere on the road and he wasn’t aware of the danger.
Moore couldn’t speak to what signs there might have been at that particular crossing, but he said there are numerous warnings posted along Pierce Ferry Road advising motorists not to enter low areas during flooding.
At the end of the day, Moore said, the county expects motorists, especially those with commercial driver’s licenses, to exercise due caution and common sense.
Canyon Coach Lines, legally known as CH Destinations Inc., received a “satisfactory” rating last year from safety regulators, according to the latest federal transportation records available online.
The records indicate the Las Vegas-based company operates 21 vehicles and employs 38 drivers. Company vehicles have been involved in two crashes since July 2011, one of which resulted in injury.
Lee said the company makes several daily trips between Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a glass-bottomed overlook on Arizona’s Hualapai Indian Reservation. Never has one of its buses encountered a flood like this, she said.
Moore said he has only seen flash flooding like that one other time in 22 years as an emergency responder in Mohave County.
He estimated the torrent crossing the road was 50 to 100 feet wide and as much as 6 to 8 feet deep.
Asked about the possibility of Razon being cited under the so-called “Stupid Driver Law,” Moore said: “He’s certainly a candidate for it. These situations are exactly why that law was created.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact reporter Henry Brean at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0350.