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New details in deadly party bus accident

September 6, 2012 5:22:32 AM PDT
When Designer Limousine's double-decker bus crossed into New Jersey last Friday, it should have never been there, sources said.

Daniel Fernandez, 16, struck a highway overpass in Fort Lee, N.J. after poking his head through a roof hatch on the double-decker bus. He was among 65 teens headed to a sweet 16 party.

The jumbo-sized bus was operating illegally as soon as it entered the state, according to sources. It was three inches higher than the maximum height of 13 feet 6 inches allowed for passenger buses. It also violated the maximum 45 foot length by three feet.

"It exceeded New Jersey size limitations, so it should not have been on the road in New Jersey," said Noah Kushlefsky, a transportation safety attorney.

Those same height and length regulations exist in New York. And, last year, the state Department of Transportation pulled the over-sized buses off the road. But a few months later, they reversed their decision and suddenly granted Designer Limo a "special hauling permit" allowing the double-deckers back in operation.

"It's not something that you see very often, this is in respect to a safety regulation, it is very unusual for any government body to waive a safety regulation, especially for an operator that is carrying passengers, and very often children," Kushlefsky said.

Kushlefsky says it's still unclear whether the illegal height of the bus played any role in the death of Daniel Fernandez, killed after sticking his head out of a roof hatch. More disturbing perhaps was the use of only one safety attendant to watch 65 teenagers on two floors.

"The bus was understaffed, almost obviously and that's probably the primary reason why the incident occurred is because the guy left where he was supposed to be. Maybe he was needed down below, but that points to the reason why there requires one on each floor," he said.

Having one safety attendant was different from what we heard when we went undercover last year to investigate safety issues with Designer Limo's buses.

"It's actually three people. There's a driver and two staff. We put two people in back of bus because the driver has no access to it. One on the first floor and one on the second floor," said a Designer Limo Salesman.

In a statement to Eyewitness News, Designer Limo said, "The bus was properly inspected, registered and insured, and had a us DOT motor carrier number which allowed for interstate travel. "

But some bus safety experts say the bus should have never been on the road.

"Quite simply, they advertise they have the biggest and you can't do that if you're meeting all the rules," Kushlefsky said.

Designer Limo claims the bus's size had nothing to do with the accident. It points out it has not at this time been issued any ticket or safety violation.

Also, the National Transportation Safety Board has told Eyewitness News it has dispatched investigators to inspect the bus.

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