Prep party bus lacked NJ size permit: DOT

Daniel Fernandez, a 16-year-old St. Francis Preparatory student, died on Aug. 31 after sticking his head out of Designer Limousines party bus and hitting an overpass.
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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 or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Updated 3:50 am, September 13, 2012
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Reader feedback

Rock from Oakwood says:
The emergency exit should be equipped with a visual and audible alarm to indicate if the emergency hatch is open or tampered with. If the bus operator was aware he could have prevented this tragedy by stopping the bus or warning the passengers using the PA system.
Sept. 13, 2012, 9:06 pm
Just saying from Queens says:
I think the parents that rented the bus to transport the kids should also be investigated and perhaps sued. They should have taken the initiative to have more chaperones (regardless of the policy; afterall these are underage children) on the bus as well. They were entrusted by the parents of the children on the bus that they would be safe. Poor lack of judgement on behalf of the S16'ers parents.
I hope the kids learn from the boy's tragic decision. That they don't allow his death be in vain, that they learn from it. Anytime any of them think of doing something a little foolish or dangerous. It's just not worth it.
Sept. 14, 2012, 1:46 pm
Gary Pittmen from Brooklyn says:
It's a tragedy that this child died.
Sept. 15, 2012, 1:01 pm

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