Arizona Officials Weigh 'Stupid Motorist Law' for Tour Bus Driver in Flood

PHOTO: A tour bus lays on its side up against a bank of a wash, July 28, 2013, near Dolan Springs, Ariz.
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Authorities are investigating whether a tour-bus driver can be held liable under Arizona's "Stupid Motorist Law" after he drove into a flash flood with 33 people on board.

A Canyon Coach Lines bus was traveling back to Las Vegas from the Grand Canyon Skywalk Sunday when bus driver Joseph Razon, 52, attempted to cross the flooding that resulted from heavy rainstorms in the area.

The bus got swept up in a flash flood and floated 300 yards off the roadway before it rolled onto its side, officials said. Passengers were able to escape the bus through its windows and make it safely onto dry land before emergency crews arrived.

READ MORE: Bus Swept Away in Arizona Flash Flood

While a handful of local rescue crews responded to the scene, they were delayed getting there because of the remote location and flooding in other locations, officials said. Despite the setback, none of the passengers sustained injuries from the accident.

"The incident is under investigation and if any charges are considered, it may very well be the 'Stupid Motorist Law,'" Mojave County Sheriff spokeswoman Trish Carter told ABCNews.com.

Under the law, anyone who drives onto a public street or highway "that is temporarily covered by a rise in water level is liable for the expenses of any emergency response that is required to remove from the public street or highway the driver or any passenger in the vehicle that becomes inoperable."

The area where the bus accident occurred received 0.75 inches of rain in about an hour Sunday afternoon, Chris Stumpf, a National Weather Service forecaster in Las Vegas, told The Associated Press.

The bus should not have been traveling in that area at the time, because there was a flash-flood warning in effect, Stumpf said.

"The occupants were extremely lucky to have survived the ordeal," Northern Arizona Consolidated Fire No. 1 District Chief Patrick Moore said.

Under the Stupid Motorist Law, there are two ways a driver could be liable for the cost of the rescue efforts, Chief Deputy Mojave County Attorney Jace Zack said.

"The first is if a driver goes around barricades meant to block off the flooded areas," Zack said. "The second is if the driver is charged and convicted of reckless driving for driving into a flood area even if there are no barricades."

In defense of the driver, Bus owner C.H. Destination's marketing manager Bessy Lee said charging him under the law would be unwarranted because neither he nor the company was aware of flash-flood warnings in that location.

"There was not a single warning sign anywhere near that road to indicate that there would be a flash flood," Lee said in a statement. "This is the very first incident of this kind with Canyon Coach Lines since we were established in 2007."

The company said it plans to implement additional safety training for drivers.

Fines under the Stupid Motorist Law are limited to $2,000 to cover the cost of the rescue, according to Zack. But the law is not commonly invoked.

"Most people are not that stupid, so it's not a statute that is commonly used," he said.

Razon might face charges of endangerment or reckless driving if he is not charged under the Stupid Motorist's Law, Zack said.

As of now, no charges have been filed against the bus driver.

Razon was not available for comment, Lee said.

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