Owner: Party bus passed inspection weeks before fatal I-294 accident
The owner of the party bus involved in a fatal accident on I-294 over the weekend says the bus passed a safety inspection three weeks ago.
Gabriel Tataru, owner of Select Limousine Service in Chicago, said Monday the bus involved in the accident was inspected every six months.
"It's a tragedy what happened ... but there was nothing wrong with the bus," Tataru said.
Tataru's attorney, Zuhair Nubani, said he didn't know who conducted the safety inspection but that it was a government entity.
Officials from the Illinois Department of Transportation could not be reached for comment Monday.
Select Limousine Service Inc. is listed in "not good standing" with the Illinois secretary of state's office. Tataru said that's because of a late filing with the Illinois Department of Revenue and that the company is in the process of clearing it up. Dave Drucker, a spokesman for the secretary of state, verified that account and said the business is not operating illegally.
James J. Larsen, 27, of Libertyville was riding in the mid-sized party bus at 3 a.m. Saturday when, according to police, he walked to the front to change the radio volume. The bus was traveling at about 70 mph at the time. That's when Larsen stumbled and fell down the bus's stairs and out the doors, onto the northbound Tri-State Tollway just south of Lake-Cook Road. He was struck by a black SUV, which drove off. Larsen was declared dead at the scene.
The bus driver was issued citations for not having a valid medical card and not having a passenger endorsement on his commercial driver's license, Illinois State Police Master Sgt. Jason Bradley said.
The bus's door and safely mechanisms are being investigated by police and Illinois Department of Transportation inspectors, Bradley said.
Police also are still working to track down the driver who struck Larsen. One of the car's bumpers was torn off by the impact, so police are using that evidence to help their search.
In a published report Monday, Larsen's mother, Kimberly Larsen, said she believes the party bus doors were unsafe.
In an email to ABC 7 Chicago, she said her son "was a very smart young man, doing the right thing -- not drinking and driving. He was out with his friends having a good time. We were so proud of him and so saddened that his life was cut short. He had his whole life ahead of him. We loved him so very much. He was truly the love of our family."
Tataru said this was the first time Select Limousine Service Inc. has had a problem in its 11 years in business. His attorney said Tataru bought the bus, a 2012 Freightliner, about a year ago from a Des Plaines company.
Tataru added that passengers are not supposed to walk around while the bus is moving.
"Until the investigation is over, we don't really know what happened," he said.
"There was nothing my client could have done to foresee something like this happening," Nubani said. "It's a horrible, freak accident."
Bob Bingle, a partner of the Corboy & Demetrio law firm who has handled party bus accident cases, said the investigation is likely to all boil down to the door -- whether it was functioning properly, had been properly inspected or was supposed to be locked.
Master Sgt. Bradley questioned whether the bus door was supposed to lock, since in case of emergency, people might need to push it open by hand.
"We don't know if there was a safety violation that was committed or not," Bradley said. "It's still an active investigation."
This is not the first serious accident to have happened on a party bus. There's an ongoing case in the South suburbs where a party bus driver let riders exit on a busy road and they were struck by a vehicle. In 2013 in Kansas City, a woman died after falling out the doors of a party bus. And in 2009, two South suburban men died while partying on top of an open-air, double-decker bus. They were standing up and hit their heads on a low overpass on I-57.