UPDATE: LA Party Bus: Did He Have To Die?

UPDATE: LA Party Bus: Did He Have To Die?

Posted: Updated:
CJ Saraceno CJ Saraceno

UPDATE:

It was expected, but it is still upsetting. The family of 24-year-old CJ Saraceno has now formally filed a lawsuit against Platinum Style Limousine Service for the September 2013 death , as CJ fell out the door of a rented ''party bus'' on the 101 Freeway near Universal City. 

As we've been reporting this week, the CHP is recommending a murder charge against the owner, claiming he ignored an order taking that particular bus out of service months before CJ's death, and that the door was not operating correctly. Now, on the civil side, the family is going after that company and it's owner, claiming in the paperwork filed today in LA County Superior Court , that the bus company '' Failed to maintain it in a safe and operable condition and knew or should have know that the failure to maintain the subject bus in a safe and operable condition created an unreasonable risk of injury to passengers or others." If the allegations are true, that would be an understatement. The plaintiffs typically don't ask for a specific dollar amount in the suit, and how can you put a price on a young man's life, but if it comes to court, jurors will do just that.

 


 

Malignant Heart?

The owner of the party bus company displayed a ''malignant heart'' in choosing not to repair the vehicle in which 24 year old CJ Saraceno died back in September of last year.  That flowery language is unusual, but is a very important  part of the CHP's conclusions in a supplementary accident report obtained by FOX 11 News. In it, the CHP recommended to the Los Angeles County District Attorney that a murder charge be filed against the bus/ limo company owner. 

The company's name is '' Platinum Style Limo'', operating out of North Hollywood. The company's attorney, the high-profile Darren Kavinocky (you've seen him in his TV commercials) says this was a tragic accident, but certainly did not rise to the level of a crime. The D.A. may or may not see it that way. We do know they've been debating this since November when this report went to them. It's not unusual for there to be some back and forth, additional investigation, and so forth, but we've got to be close to a decision. The D.A. is typically reluctant to take on cases they don't feel they can win beyond a reasonable doubt, and this one, based on the mountains of reports I've read, seems clear cut to me. But, as experience shows, those who have the best attorneys win. Meantime, the family is planning to file a civil suit against Platinum as early as Friday morning.


After our FOX 11 Investigates report ran Wednesday night, I spoke at length with the CHP. They are reluctant to say too much because of the clichéd "subject of an ongoing investigation", but the bottom line is that criminal charges against the owner of the party bus and limo company in question are still very much a reality, though that will ultimately be the decision, as always of the LA County District Attorney's office.  Of course, they expect a civil suit to be filed by the victim's family, though likely the CHP will not be named in that. They acknowledged that there may be room for improvement and tightening of the inspections required by law for these companies and vehicles, in particular follow-up inspections when problems are found.  Bottom line for now: potentially unsafe limos, party buses, and other vehicles you want to rent are still out there on the roads despite the systems set up to prevent that. A company may, in essence, get an overall "satisfactory" rating, but have specific vehicles that are unsafe. Or, a company may get an "unsatisfactory" rating, but before the state Public Utilities Commission can act on a request to suspend their license, the company still operates and the consumer has very little ability to find this out. We'll stay on it.

Phil Shuman

-----------------------------------

By all accounts, CJ Saraceno was bright, well-loved, fun, smart, and ambitious.  He was "electric" in the words of his closest friends.  He'd get you excited, whether you were doing something as simple as going to a new restaurant or going to a concert. 

He came to LA two years ago, after graduating from Tufts University in Massachusetts, with plans, as his friends said, to ‘'take over Hollywood'.  He was working at a digital marketing and branding firm on Sunset Boulevard. Things were good.  

What happened to him is a nightmare we wouldn't wish on our worst enemies.  CJ was with about two dozen friends in one of those rented "party buses", a luxury passenger-van type vehicle you'd rent to go to a party or a prom or a special event.  It was just after midnight on September 29th of last year, when, for reasons that no one has fully explained to us, he fell against the bus door. It just opened up. CJ tumbled out onto the 101 freeway where he was hit and killed by a number of cars following behind. 

You don't even want to think about it. 

At first it was thought of as a tragic accident, but a CHP investigation showed that the vehicle in question was put "out of service" back in April of 2013 for inoperable emergency exits, and a post-accident inspection showed, according to a search warrant, obtained by FOX 11 News, that the "door was faulty and not operating correctly". 

The affidavit in support of the search warrant concluded "If the vehicle would not have been in service the passenger (Christopher Saraceno) would not have sustained fatal injuries''.

As you can imagine, it's a bitter pill for the family and friends of CJ to swallow. The family will no doubt sue. Criminal charges are possible, at this writing, against the owner of the limo company, whose high-profile attorney disputes the CHP's conclusions. 

Our FOX 11 investigation spotlights what could reasonably be interpreted as glaring weaknesses in the safety inspection process. Weaknesses that need legislative attention immediately. From a consumer's point of view, even though you can  (theoretically) get the overall safety rating of a limo company, if you call the CHP, you really can't find out about a specific vehicle. That's because when you reserve one, you'd have to know which one you're getting and then be able to check that exact vehicle out.  It's not simple.

Meantime, CJ"s family and friends, who were and are still devastated, have started two scholarships in his honor, one at his high school back home in Connecticut and another to cover expenses for a Tufts student who wants to come to L.A. for an internship.   

Here's the Facebook page for one of the scholarship fundraisers, Thursday night in Santa Monica: https://www.facebook.com/CJMemorialScholarship

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