Social media is abuzz over the recent fatal roll-over crash in Elgin, Ill., involving a limousine. Anytime you have a limousine operated by a 20-year-old chauffeur that results in a death, tongues are going to wag.
Throw in a lack of insurance, an affiliate relationship gone-wrong, a limo operated by a defunct company and a whole lot of finger pointing coupled with some “he-said-she-said” scenarios, you've got drama and controversy. Add to that the fact there is a Lyons Limousine in Tacoma Point, Wash., bearing the same name as the Lyons Limousine company in Wisconsin involved in this crash. Talk about a PR nightmare.
No, this story is not at all like my weekly drivel. It is intended to spotlight the many issues involved in this crash that it should make us mindful of who we hire, how we train, how we monitor, how we schedule and how we might react if this was your vehicle and driver. Yes, I called the young man a “driver” because I personally don’t believe at the tender age of 20 that you possess the life experience necessary to carry the professional title of “chauffeur.” If the shoe doesn’t fit, he must not be legit. That’s what I’m going with here.
Daddy may have given him the keys to the limo but he wasn’t able to fill daddy’s shoes. I don’t know if a daddy actually owned the limo company or not. However, I find it quite ironic that the driver, Aaron Nash of Janesville, Wisc., was also employed by Lions Quick Mart in Jansville. Does that seem odd to anyone else that Nash would be employed by Lyons Limousine and Lions Quick Mart? According to Linda Fewell, clerk for the Township of Janesville, she issued a special permit on April 6, 2015 for the then 19 year-old Nash to sell alcohol at the mini-mart.
That’s neither here nor there compared to other oddities of this crash. For starters, according to state records, Lyons Limousine was officially dissolved as a corporation in the state of Wisconsin in June 2015, shortly after Nash received his permit to sell alcohol. However, a passenger in the crash indicated they had chartered the vehicle from Zenith Limousine & Jets, LLC in Madison, Wisc. An unidentified person from Zenith told the Associated Press that Lyons Limousine, LLC was formerly affiliated with Zenith but has not been since October 2015. Say what? That is four months after they dissolved their business! The passenger also asserted that the name Zenith was on the vehicle but Master Sgt. Jason Bradley of the Illinois State Police says the limousine is registered to Lyons Limousine Service based in Edgerton, Wisc.
Let’s sidetrack to Zenith. A Zenith representative stated on the day of the crash, “Lyons came on board with us in October of 2014 as Lyons Limousine, but their agreement expired in October 2015. I’m not sure why they still have our sticker on their car.” As of Friday afternoon, Janesville was still listed on Zenith’s website as a franchise location, but by Saturday morning the information about the Janesville location had been removed. There was also a Facebook page specifically devoted to the Janesville Zenith location but it was removed and the Yelp page listing for Lyons Limousine has a link to a website that has also been taken down. The Zenith representative said he was not aware that Lyons was still operating as a part of Zenith. Yeah, that’s what I would say too!
LCT made calls to Lyons Limousine a day after the crash. The call was answered by an answering machine that clearly indicated there was a business actually operating and there was a direct relationship between Zenith and Lyons. While Lyons was clearly in involved in operations despite dissolving its corporation, according to the FMSCA Safer website, there has been no active insurance filing since October 2013. Oops!
Perhaps that is the answer to the million dollar question. Why was a 20-year-old operating a limousine when most insurance companies require drivers to be a minimum of 25 years old? Or, do they? That’s largely a myth says Carol Bean, an industry insurance agent. Many carriers will gladly insure a 20 year-old with a huge increase in premium to go with the risk.
When you renew your insurance policy each year, your insurance carrier asks for a list of all of your drivers. Your premium is based in part on their personal driving records. A guy with three speeding tickets is going to jack up your rate.
While they don’t break it out as a line-item increase, the total premium is based on the risk factor of your drivers. But, who cares if you don’t carry insurance? I suppose the guy who lost his wife in the crash cares. I suppose the six injured people probably care that their medical expenses, pain and suffering and lost wages are not covered by anyone. Sure they can sue. But, I’m guessing if the operator didn’t have enough money to buy insurance, he probably doesn’t have much of value to seize and sell.
As with many states, there is no special license needed to operate a limousine so there was no violation of Nash by operating the vehicle on an Illinois highway except for failing to have insurance. I bet you dollars to donuts Nash is going to say that he was merely an employee and it wasn’t his responsibility to insure the company vehicle he was driving. That’s what I would say! The laws in Illinois are pretty lenient as far as commercial license requirements. According to Illinois State Police, if the vehicle was equipped to carry 16 or more occupants, including the driver, the driver would have needed to be 21 years old and have a commercial driver’s license. However, we can easily see in the photo this is not the case with this vehicle.
Wisconsin follows the same laws, says Corey Kleist, section chief for Qualification and Issuance at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, who said limousine drivers are not required to have a commercial driver's license as long as the vehicle was designed to carry fewer than 16 passengers and the vehicle's weight is under 26,000 pounds. That’s all fine and dandy except for one nagging little problem. Once you cross a state line, you are involved in interstate travel regulated by DOT and the law says if a driver drives across state lines, he is required to be at least 21 years old. Oops again!
With farm-in and farm-out orders taking place around the clock in our industry, this should be a wake-up call. Do you really know who is driving your passengers? Do you really know if the company performing the work for you is properly licensed and insured? Do you really know what their hiring qualifications are? You probably should or this just might just be a story about you someday.