LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. (AP) – The captain of the tour boat that capsized Sunday, killing 20 elderly tourists on a fall foliage tour, said the 47 passengers aboard that day were an unusually large group.

Richard Paris, 74, told The Associated Press on Friday he was used to seeing tour buses with 30 to 35 people disembark at the Lake George pier before piling aboard the Ethan Allen.

He was at the wheel Sunday when the Ethan Allen flipped over, spilling its passengers and Paris into the calm, 68-degree waters of this Adirondack lake. He initially told investigators he was trying to steer out of the wake of another boat when the boat went over.

Paris wouldn’t discuss specifics of the accident but said: “They’ve had a pretty good description of the accident in the paper.”

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are looking at whether the boat was unstable or shouldn’t have been certified to carry up to 50 people. They also are studying traffic on the lake that day and human factors.

Taking a break from cleaning the gutters on his neat, one-story home on a dead end street off one of the lake’s bays, he said he had been instructed not to talk about the accident.

“Our corporate attorney says no. Our boss says no, so I guess it’s no,” he said. “They don’t want me to talk about it. I’d as soon not. Let the attorneys take care of it. I guess that’s what they’re being paid for.”

Paris said he’s received letters of support since the accident.

“I’ve gotten cards from people I haven’t seen in 20 years saying they’re all on my side,” he said. “Should be, I haven’t done anything wrong.”

Paris, wearing a ball cap, gray sweat shirt and faded blue jeans and smoking a cigarette, denied media reports that he is an alcoholic or a recovering alcoholic.

“I like a beer,” he said. “Everyone likes a beer. They put that stuff in the newspapers, there goes my reputation. Everybody knows I like a beer but I’m not a barfly.”

Warren County Sheriff Larry Cleveland has said he interviewed Paris right after the accident and determined he lacked reasonable cause to test for alcohol, as per state law.

Paris has since voluntarily given a blood and urine sample to federal investigators who will test for alcohol and drugs.

Cleveland supported Paris’ account that the boat was more crowded than usual on Sunday.

“You generally don’t see that many people on it,” he said Friday.

Cleveland said investigators have begun turning over material to the district attorney’s office to put it before “another set of eyes.” He added that was a normal procedure for a fatal incident and did not mean a criminal case was being contemplated.

Paris has experience with bigger tour boats. He piloted the 150-passenger Defiance, another boat belonging to Shoreline Cruises, for about 20 years until they retired that boat in 2004.

Lake George Mayor Robert Blais said the village’s tour boat captains and pilots are “an extremely important segment” of the local tourism industry.

“In truth, they are ambassadors to the folks that come here,” said Blais, who knew Paris from Blais’ days as a police officer for Lake George.

“You would never think something like this would happen to us,” said Blais as he took a break from writing letters to the survivors and families of those killed in the tragedy.

Investigators were hoping to put the Ethan Allen back out on Lake George this weekend for testing. It was back in the water briefly Thursday.

“It appears to be watertight,” said Mark Rosenker, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Part of the problem could be that the boat was never subjected to stability tests after modifications that increased its weight because state boating regulations didn’t require them, Rosenker said Thursday.

The Ethan Allen was carrying a wood-Fiberglas canopy, instead of its old canvas one, and a bigger engine than when it was first put into New York waters in 1979. From 1966, the year it left a Rhode Island boatyard, until 1979, it worked Connecticut waters.

Roger Compton, dean of the Webb Institute of naval architecture and marine engineering, said: “If you’re adding weight two things happen. You sink deeper in the water and, depending where you add it, you can be significantly raising the center of gravity, which is usually detrimental to stability.”

Tests on a boat similar to the Ethan Allen had to be abandoned Wednesday after the boat leaned over dangerously with only a fraction of the weight it was approved to carry.

State rules also allowed the operators of the Ethan Allen to store the boat’s life jackets in what Rosenker said was a locker, even though that prevented passengers from getting to them easily. None of the 47 passengers or the captain was wearing a life jacket. Rosenker said some survivors probably grabbed the orange vests as they popped to the surface.

Gov. George Pataki unveiled proposed legislation Friday that aimed make New York’s boating laws as strict as federal law.

Shoreline Cruises, the tour operator, released a statement saying the Ethan Allen was in compliance with all state guidelines regarding passenger limits at the time of the accident. The boat passed its most recent inspection in May.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.