Group labors to pay tribute to Lake Luzerne crash victim
Stone pulled from river now a memorial
LAKE LUZERNE Kevin Swinton’s short post on Facebook was deliberately vague.
The 30-year-old Queensbury man tagged 10 close friends in a public post asking them for a couple hours of their time to complete a personal project of great importance. Though he offered no monetary compensation, he promised any takers the reward of being “physically, mentally, and spiritually” changed — that the work could be the greatest thing they’ve ever done.
“This project pays nothing but positive karma and I will not promise you go home the same way you came,” he wrote Sunday.
The physical and mental aspect involved figuring out how to pull a roughly 1,200-pound rectangular slab of marble out of the shallows of the Hudson River and then ferry the stone to a point where it could be loaded onto a truck by hand. The spiritual part involved honoring the memory of a 15-year-old tragically killed eight days earlier — a boy Swinton never knew.
Hunter Scofield was working as a guide for Tubby Tubes Rafting Co. during the summer before his junior year at Hadley-Luzerne High School. On the afternoon of July 5, he was standing at the front of a converted school bus talking to 31 passengers heading to an upstream drop-off point on the Hudson.
The driver lost control of the bus on a downhill, dirt stretch of Thomas Road, causing the vehicle to pitch sharply to the left and flip at the intersection of River Road. Scofield, an honor student and president of his class, was thrown from the bus when the front door swung open. He was the lone casualty in a crash still being investigated by state police.
Scofield’s death stunned the tight-knit Hadley-Luzerne community, and the crash site overlooking the river quickly became a memorial to his life. Family members placed a cross on a tree; friends dropped off balloons, flowers, a football and a baseball.
News of the horrific accident also resonated with Swinton, the father of three boys, and close friend Bill Cason, a river guide with a different company on the Hudson. Both wanted to pay tribute to a life cut tragically short, both stumped thinking about what would be appropriate.
Then Cason recalled seeing the perfectly chiseled slab visible in the clear water of the Hudson — rumored to be the remnant of a train derailment decades ago. Unaware of its weight, the two friends figured they could rock the stone underwater until they reached the shore, then haul it down the river on a tube.
But after several aborted attempts and about five hours of trying, they surmised they’d need a new strategy. And more importantly, they’d need more help.
Swinton’s appeal on Facebook drew friends Kevin Lee and Rocky Lord into the project. The four men ended up back in the Hudson early Sunday evening, grappling the rock again amid a driving rain.
This time, they had eight tubes they were able to lash together as a makeshift barge. By trial and error, and after hours in the elements, they managed to load the stone onto the tubes and float it a short distance down the river before having it slip back into the water.
Some might have lost heart and abandoned the project. Swinton’s group, however, remained resolved.
“At that point, it was getting done — that was all there was to it,” Swinton recalled Wednesday.
Against all odds, the men were able to reload the stone and strong-arm it through shallows where their barge dragged along the river bed. Amazingly, they were also able to pull the mammoth block more than 60 feet up a steep river embankment and then guide it into the bed of Swinton’s truck — a process during which they used only a collection of straps and some jumper cables.
At the site of the crash, they dug a foot-deep hole using the only tool they had: a metal baseball bat. In the dark and rain, they guided the stone into a spot just a short distance from the skidmarks dug into the earth by the bus just days earlier.
“Then as soon as we set that stone — as soon as we muscled it in — the rain completely stopped,” Swinton said.
The four initially thought about leaving the stone as an anonymous tribute. But after visiting it the next day, Swinton decided to post a simple tribute to Scofield and their toils on Facebook.
“I hope that your family enjoys seeing it as much as we enjoyed getting it for you,” he wrote of the marker. “I also hope they know just how great of parents they are, to have raised someone as special as you.”
The post quickly went viral, and by Wednesday, his story had been shared more than 500 times. Among the many people reading the story were Kim and Chris Cleary, a Vermont couple aboard the bus when Scofield died.
A stone carver by trade, Chris Cleary immediately contacted Swinton to offer his services to the monument project free of charge. Still rattled by the crash, the couple figured if they could help the effort, it could bring them some closure.
“It just feels like I should be doing this,” he said Wednesday.
Cleary will drive back to Lake Luzerne today to engrave the stone with Scofield’s name and a saying he used to tell his friends and family: “If you can’t learn to be friends with everyone, you can’t be friends with anyone.”
The whirlwind social media-fueled project will come to a conclusion on what would have been Scofield’s 16th birthday. While a memorial celebration happens in Hadley Park this afternoon, Cleary will be etching the block the four painstakingly brought to the site of the crash.
The impromptu effort has left Scofield’s grieving family touched. Lindsey Scofield, the boy’s older sister, shared the story with her own circle of friends.
“I am truly lost for words as I have been the past few days with Hunter’s tragic accident,” she wrote.