NEW BREMEN — An ATV event held over the weekend at the Stuck in the Muck Off-road Park that resulted in a fatal UTV accident in the parking lot Saturday night has county officials on edge.
The event flouted stay-at-home and anti-gathering laws still in effect as the north country begins its phased reopening with ongoing concerns over a COVID-19 surge, social distancing was not respected, masks were not worn and the campgrounds were open.
While the event organizer insists he had permission, county officials insist no permission was given.
The one fact that manager of the park and event organizer Eric D. Young and county officials agree upon is that Mr. Young contacted the Public Health Department about a group of people who would be at the park to groom the trails on Saturday.
The group would be around 20 people.
Social distancing would be respected and masks would be worn.
“It was going to be just a staff hang-out weekend. That was it. And we were going to do trail work, maintenance, clean-up, that’s how this all started, really. We were making sure that was OK and that part got approved right off the bat, like nothing,” Mr. Young said.
“He had permission for up to 20 guys to social distance,” said the chairman of the Lewis County Board of Legislators, Lawrence Dolhof of the trail maintenance day.
While it is not clear when the event, which Mr. Young said was not an official Stuck in the Muck event, began to grow, but it was promoted through the off-road park and Stuck in the Muck Facebook pages using direct personal messages since at least the beginning of the month.
Mention of the event became more public in comment threads, however, as the weekend came closer.
“We are holding our first limited person event next weekend. We got approved for private camping and the ATV trails,” Stuck in the Muck Offroad Park replied on May 10 to one person who posted about attending the annual June truck event.
Mr. Dolhof, however, said no permission for a larger event was given despite a number of conversations between Mr. Young and a county Public Health staff member.
“I talked to several people — we’ve been talking for weeks and months — at the county and state and the attorney general’s,” Mr. Young claimed, “All sorts of different people. We’d get permission, then we wouldn’t get permission. We’d go back and forth, back and forth.”
Not so, said Mr. Dolhof.
Lewis County was one of the first in the north country to declare a state of emergency and has supported social distancing, wearing masks and has discouraged previous large, illegal events like the short-lived Corona Run ATV event that was planned for the day meant for the Annual Snirt Poker Run.
“We are obviously very concerned that this happened. He did not have permission from the county to have an illegal event,” Mr. Dolhof said.
Tickets to get into the park for the weekend were $10 and according to another Facebook post, space was unlimited.
“There’s plenty of room, just had to put that in there to please King Cuomo,” the Park’s page said answering questions about “pre-sale” tickets being unavailable and limits on the number of people on the property.
Legislator for the New Bremen District, Ian Gilbert, lives down the road from the park and saw the heavy traffic and trailers laden with ATVs and UTVs when he drove by on Saturday morning.
“I drove by in the evening just to see if it had dissipated and it hadn’t at that point,” Mr. Gilbert said.
Mr. Gilbert and County Manager Ryan Piche were in communication and while Mr. Piche went to the park scene and told Mr. Young that there had to be fewer people, it had little effect.
“I was pretty upset to hear it was happening. It came as a bit of a shock. When you have a huge event with hundreds of people that definitely demands a response.” Mr. Gilbert said, “I’m upset that the event happened, I’m upset that there was a lack of communication and I think it created a perfect storm.”
When a large event is normally held, the county emergency preparedness department is involved and there is an ambulance on the premises, Mr. Gilbert said.
Mr. Young said “the cops” came in and strolled around, but they “didn’t say a word,” nor did those that came later that night because of the UTV accident in the parking lot that killed one of the event attendees.
The investigation into the death of Danielluis Diaz by state police is still ongoing and it is unknown if any charges will be filed against the establishment.
The Sheriff’s office was contacted about the event. However, it is not clear if the “cops” who showed up in the day were from his office.
In April, when over 50 ATV riders took to Tug Hill on the day the Snirt Poker Run was meant to be held, Sheriff Carpinelli had said the only tickets his department could have issued would have been for normal law-breaking like disorderly conduct, traffic infractions and drunken driving.
The sheriff said he believes all of the laws instated via executive order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo are “unconstitutional.” He could not be reached for comment about the ATV event.
While Mr. Young said he understands the concern over the event, he maintained the campground wasn’t a violation because it was private and the event was under what he said was the agreed-upon size.
In an interview, Mr. Young said camping there wasn’t a problem for people because it was private and only public camp grounds were closed.
“They wanted us to stay under a hundred people and we did, but I didn’t count the kids. We’re always really family oriented,” Mr. Young said, while Mr. Dolhof said the agreed-upon limit was 20 people.
Some photos shared on various Facebook pages of riders who attended showed a few smaller groups, but many pictures and videos were also shared with more than 50 machines and riders visible in one spot along the route.
A local food truck provided concessions. Mr. Young said he hadn’t thought of including the truck in the approval process because the vendors themselves are responsible for their permits and meeting necessary requirements and the truck’s owner was also a participant.
Mr. Young said Stuck in the Muck does three events every year. The first one is normally held the first week of May
The owner of the property and businesses, Paul Lyndaker, who also owns the neighboring Adirondack International Speedway, which shares the parking lot with the mud park, could not be reached for comment.