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The bus company that transported a Woodside teenager who died after sticking his head through a second-floor escape hatch said the vehicle fit easily under the underpass, but the New Jersey DOT said the bus may have been so large that it required a special permit, which it did not have.
An official at the New Jersey Department of Transportation said all vehicles operating on New Jersey roadways more than 13 feet 6 inches tall need a special oversize permit and had no record that Designer Limousines, the company operating the party bus on which the teenager was killed, sought such a permit.
Daniel Fernandez, a 16-year-old St. Francis Prep student, died Aug. 31 on the double-decker party bus while on his way with 64 other Queens students to a Sweet 16 party in Garfield, N.J.
Designer Limousines responded to the allegation saying it had been advised that its New York state and U.S. Department of Transportation oversize permits were applicable across state lines. A spokesman with the company, Kyle Kotary, said had the company realized that was not the case, it would have sought a New Jersey permit.
He said, however, the bus had more than a foot of clearance from below the overpass regardless.
“There is no way the bus or any part of it could have or would have hit that overpass on its own,” Designer Limousines spokesman Kyle Kotary said.
He said the bus is listed by the manufacturer and by a New York state special use permit as 13 feet 6 inches, although it has a hydraulic lift system that when engaged raises the bus 3 inches higher, Kotary said.
He said the company was not sure if the system was activated at the time of the accident, but said the overpass the teenager hit was 14 feet 10 inches, more than a foot higher than the bus.
“This was a sad and tragic accident caused by a poor decision to ignore repeated verbal warnings from the safety attendant and clearly marked written warnings on the vehicle,” Kotary said.
The St. Francis Prep principal’s secretary said the school had nothing to do with the bus trip, saying she assumed the kids chose it as a pick-up location because it was an easy place to meet.
“We wouldn’t sanction something like that,” she said.
The Port Authority is conducting an investigation into the accident, speaking with people who were near and around the victim at the time of the crash and assessing other factors such as the bus’s height and equipment, Port Authority spokesman Al Della Fave said.
He said investigations take four to six weeks and the Bergen County, N.J., prosecutor will make a decision as to whether any charges should be filed.
Kotary said that based on what the company had heard, although details had not been confirmed by authorities, a safety attendant had repeatedly warned the students not to touch the emergency exit hatch.
It appeared that within moments after the attendant had gone downstairs to check on the other young passengers, he heard screaming and went back upstairs to find Fernandez, Kotary said.
He said that buses are not required by New York state or New Jersey laws to have any safety attendants on board. He said the bus transporting the students had one company safety attendant, as per company policy, but no parental chaperones.
Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4538.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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