PORTLAND, MAINE – Some might say it's bad for business. After all, aren’t all limousine chauffeurs paid to just drive the car?
"Right," said Dan DeCosta, co-owner of Lilley's Limousine in Scarborough, "except when there are kids involved."
He’s not kidding. Just ask the teenagers who piled into the back of a Lilley's Limousine stretch Hummer and promptly broke out the booze on their way to Greely High School prom. Only minutes later, they found themselves all dressed up, back at their home . . . with no way to get to prom.
A parent of one of the kids had hired Lilley's to ferry the party of 18 prom-goers from a home in North Yarmouth to the Eastland Park Hotel in Portland.
The $1,100 rental fee, along with the $165 mandatory chauffeur's tip, had all been paid. The contract, which begins with the words "Prom Policy," had been duly signed.
The policy could not have been more clear: No drugs or alcohol allowed in the limousine at any time. No consumption of same by any passenger at any time. No smoking in the vehicle. No body parts hanging out the windows. All bags shall be placed in the trunk; if you need something, the driver will watch while you retrieve it and then put the bag back.
All payments are nonrefundable.
DeCosta said his driver, who asked that his name not be used, was headed for Portland with the front compartment divider down (another rule) when he saw that someone had managed to smuggle a bottle of champagne and a bottle of Absolut vodka aboard the Hummer. Around the same time, he heard one kid ask, "Is anyone in this limo sober?"
Adhering to company protocol, the driver immediately pulled over and confiscated the alcohol. Then he made a U-turn and announced that the party was over. The kids went ballistic.
"The driver called me and told me what he had found and that the kids were getting irate and they were screaming and hollering at him," DeCosta said. "I told him to go ahead and terminate the ride."
DeCosta called the parent who had signed the contract and explained what he was doing and why. By the time the limousine arrived back at the house in North Yarmouth, several of the kids' parents were already there. Yes, there was hell to pay, but it wasn't the kids who found themselves in the hot seat. It was the driver.
"Basically, the parents started telling him to look the other way," DeCosta said. "They were saying things like, 'Didn't you go to high school? Didn't you ever drink in high school?' "
Parents and children alike also accused the chauffeur of "ruining our prom," DeCosta said. "And he kept telling them, 'I didn't ruin anything. You guys did.' "
It got worse. While the parents tongue-lashed the driver, some of the kids went around to the other side of the Hummer and tore off the gas cap, DeCosta said. Then a parent stood in front of the limousine and told the driver he wasn't going anywhere for the duration of the period he'd been hired.
"That's when the driver got out his cell phone and called the police," DeCosta said, adding that the parents quickly stood aside "once they knew who he was calling." The driver then left before police arrived.
Since the showdown, there's been a lot of muttering about lawsuits and how this thing isn't over, but nothing has materialized. And whenever DeCosta thinks about all those parents doing such a good job defending their little darlings' right to choose which rules they obey and which they don't, he collides head-on with the biggest irony of all.
"These are the same parents who, if anyone got hurt while their kids were drinking, would have sued us in a second," he said. "It's a no-win situation for us."
It's also a no-brainer, especially if you're the guy behind the wheel. Had police discovered the tipsy teens in the back of the limousine, DeCosta said, his driver could have lost his license and faced criminal charges.
Just two days before the prom, District Attorney Stephanie Anderson, Portland Police Chief Mike Chitwood and Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion announced a crackdown on adults who provide kids alcohol or a place to drink it.
Contacted at Greely High School, Assistant Principal Wayne Fordham said school officials suspected that something was up when the group of kids arrived en masse long after the prom had begun; it seems their always-accommodating parents drove them. But it wasn't until the following Monday, too late, unfortunately, to bust anyone, that Fordham heard through the grapevine exactly what had happened.
"We certainly support the limousine driver in this matter," said Fordham. "I think he did the right thing."
So, it should be noted, does at least one parent who wasn't at the scene of the confrontation. She tracked DeCosta down after hearing about how the teenagers, her own included, had been treated by Lilley's Limousine. Her message: "Please thank your driver for having the guts to stick by the rules!"