SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — The owner of Party Bus of Santa Cruz — which operates a limo bus that was the scene of a scuffle last weekend between two intoxicated female passengers that resulted in them tumbling out of an exit door and one getting fatally run over — spoke about the incident this week to LCT and addressed some past company violations.
LCT background article here on Santa Cruz party bus death.
California bus operators are required to undergo an annual “terminal inspection” by a commercial enforcement officer of the California Highway Patrol. Such inspections are a condition of licensing by the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates all charter party carriers in the state of California, and the CHP is ordered by the CPUC to conduct these annual inspections. During the inspections, authorities inspect vehicles and driver records, and review drug and alcohol testing programs and maintenance and mechanical records.
The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported that violations discovered during the 2010 inspection of Party Bus of Santa Cruz include operating on a suspended PUC license, failing to maintain workers compensation insurance, failing to enroll drivers in the DMV Pull Notice Program and failing to perform pre-employment drug and alcohol testing or conduct random testing of drivers. The company also was cited for failing to maintain waybills, a requirement of the CPUC, Department of Transportation and airport authorities.
Jon Reno St. James, owner of Party Bus of Santa Cruz, disputes most of the newspaper report, while the CPUC confirmed that the only license suspension of record was based on the failure to maintain workers comp insurance.
Party Bus of Santa Cruz was fined $4,500 in 2010 by the CPUC for failing to maintain workers’ compensation insurance, according to the licensing division of the commission. St. James told LCT the company was in the process of switching from one insurance carrier to another and there was a brief period that the old policy was canceled and the new policy was not yet in effect that resulted in the suspension.
In an interview with LCT, St. James also said the 2010 inspection included an unsatisfactory rating by the CHP caused by his failure to have his drivers enrolled in the Commercial Driver Pull Notice Program of the Department of Motor Vehicles. The problem was resolved within five days and the company subsequently received a satisfactory rating in each inspection after 2010, including one in March 2012, according to the CHP.
Grant Kniffen, a motor carrier specialist for the CHP, who was not involved in this investigation, said that violations discovered in an inspection can result in fines imposed by the CHP that may not be reported to the CPUC. The CHP provides a rating of either "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory" to the CPUC and each agency works independently within their own areas. “Failing to enroll a single driver in the Pull Notice Program could result in a fine being levied against the company,” Kniffen said.
St. James also told LCT Party Bus of Santa Cruz is not a registered DOT carrier, as it does not cross state lines and therefore not required to operate under federal motor carrier regulations.
In the July 27 accident, two women became involved in an altercation while the party bus traveled on a California State Highway in the area of Los Gatos, Calif. and subsequently fell out of the bus during the fight. Natasha Nolan, 25, was killed when the bus ran over her. An unidentified 20-year old female who also fell out has been treated and released from the hospital. She has not been arrested but is the subject of an investigation, the CHP said. Her name is being withheld.
Neither the highway patrol nor St. James could confirm how many passengers were onboard at the time of the incident. A waybill must include the name of the person that chartered the vehicle as well as a lead passenger name and how many passengers will be in the vehicle. It is estimated that 12-15 passengers were onboard. Several passengers ran away from the scene and those that stayed behind were uncooperative with law enforcement officials at the scene. Two of the passengers were arrested for interfering with officials and a physical assault on an officer. All passengers were determined to be inebriated, according to highway patrol reports.
According to public records, Jon Reno St. James is the owner of Jon Reno St. James, LLC that operates under the names: Airport Express, Party Bus of Santa Cruz and A-1 Executive Transportation. St. James said the website for Party Bus of Santa Cruz was changed on Monday to land on the A-1 Executive Transportation website as the company seeks to distance itself from the Party Bus of Santa Cruz name.
Related article: California legislator calls for stricter regulations of party buses
Sources: Jim Luff, LCT contributing editor; Santa Cruz Sentinel