sign warning of flash floodsArizona is considering using its “Stupid Motorist Law” to charge a tour bus driver who drove into a flash flood with 33 passengers on board. Joseph Razon, 52, was driving the Canyon Coach Lines bus from the Grand Canyon Skywalk to Las Vegas on Sunday, when he drove into the flooding along Pierce Ferry Road in northwestern AZ (about 35 minutes outside of Kingman) that resulted from torrential rainstorms, news reports say.

The bus stalled and was swept nearly half a mile down the fast-moving 8-foot-deep, 100-foot-wide wash, writes Laurie Merrill for The Arizona Republic, in an article appearing on USA TODAY. It then flipped on its side into an embankment and the passengers escaped uninjured, writes the Associated Press (AP) in an article in The Washington Post.

Merrill quotes Rhonda Ho, operations manager for Canyon Coach Lines, who said:

[T]he driver was able to maneuver the bus into a nearby tree that kept the vehicle from going further down the wash. She said the driver and guide helped the passengers get out of the bus safely and wait for a second tour vehicle to arrive and finish the trip back to Vegas. She said the company is working to retrieve the bus and will conduct an internal investigation. […]

[T]he bus owned by the Las Vegas-based company was returning from a day-trip to the Grand Canyon’s west rim when driver Joseph Razon saw a car right in front of him go through a section of the highway covered by some water, and ‘he thought, if a car can go through it, I can go through it.’

The bus was pushed into the wash, she said, by the rushing water when a second current smashed into the bus, she said.

Bessy Lee, marketing manager for C.H. Destination, the Las Vegas bus owner (which does business as Canyon Coach Lines), told AP that charging the driver under the Stupid Motorist Law would be “an insult.” There were no traffic signs warning Razon about the danger, she said, and he made a careful choice to cross through the water. Moreover, she said, no one was hurt. The company will improve its training to prevent this from happening again, she said.

Mohave County Public Works director Steve Latoski told AP that the flooding of dry desert riverbeds happened so fast, county officials had no time to put up temporary warning signs. There are, however, permanent signs from the turnoff to the Grand Canyon Skywalk on Piece Ferry Road, warning drivers that washes could become flooded, Latoski said. He said the driver would have certainly passed one of the signs, which he expects would have been visible, as it is prominently displayed and in good condition.

The bus company’s Lee told AP that it was not raining when Razon stopped the bus and assessed whether it was safe to cross the watery wash. “He was protecting the passengers and the bus,” she said. A company official told AP that Razon has worked for the company since 2005 and had a clean driving record. But AP found that according to Arizona court records, Razon pleaded guilty to speeding on U.S. 93 while operating one of the buses.

Regarding the Arizona law’s applicability in this case, AP writes that it is “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 rescue operations.”

In a comment to the USA TODAY article, Paul Johnson writes:

I saw a flash flood cross Hwy. 14 out by Mojave one day that looked like a runaway locomotive. Just a trickle of water before and after, but an 8 ft. wall of mud, rocks and debris in between. It all happened in split second in bright sunshine to boot. It’s best to just stay home.

Image by grace_kat.

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