SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — The California Highway Patrol is investigating the weekend death of a 25-year-old Santa Cruz woman, who was killed after she and another woman were ejected from a limo-party bus owned and operated by Party Bus of Santa Cruz, said Jon-Reno St. James, owner of the bus, on Monday.
The fatal accident occurred just before midnight on Highway 17 near state Highway 9 in Los Gatos, said Officer D.J. Sarabia of the Highway Patrol. The bus was carrying 12 to 15 passengers; the exact number was unknown at the time of the crash, Sarabia said.
The passengers were returning home from a concert when 25-year-old Natasha Noland and an unidentified 20-year-old woman got into a physical fight near the back of the bus, Sarabia said. During the fight, a door towards the rear of the bus was opened causing both passengers to be ejected from the bus while traveling at about 45 miles per hour, according to the unidentified female bus driver. Noland was run over by the bus and pronounced dead at the scene.
The driver has been employed by Party Bus of Santa Cruz for two and a half years. She told investigators that she did not notice the commotion right away because there was loud music playing. The driver is not facing any charges, Sarabia said.
The other woman involved was not seriously hurt and suffered only from road rash, Sarabia said. No other passengers were injured, and no other vehicles were involved.
According to St. James, the door on the bus is an “air-door” in which air pressure is used to airlock the door. There are only two methods to open the door. The first is the driver’s control switch and the second is the emergency release valve that disengages the air pressure. If one of the passengers had activated the emergency release handle, either intentionally or unintentionally, air drag from the moving bus could cause the door to open, said Rodney Frame, a 25-year veteran bus driver for The Limousine Scene in Bakersfield who operates similar buses.
“It is not yet clear how or why the bus door opened,” Sarabia said. It appears that all of the passengers on the bus had been engaged in drinking, and that Noland was likely intoxicated, he added.
St. James said that he believes this incident may be used as a catalyst for implementing stronger safety rules and regulations on operators in California and perhaps the entire country. The company is not facing any charges and was not found to have contributed to the unfortunate incident involving two passengers.
KTVU-TV party bus death report here
— Jim Luff, LCT contributing editor and partner of The Limousine Scene, Bakersfield, Calif; Associated Press