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CHP recommends murder charge in party bus accident

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The California Highway Patrol has recommended a murder charge be filed against the owner of a "party bus" after a 24-year-old man fell out of it and died on the 101 Freeway last year in Studio City.

The CHP submitted its traffic collision report for review last week in the incident in which Christopher "C.J." Saraceno II lost his balance and fell down the steps of the 2001 Ford F-550.

The L.A. County district attorney's office is considering filing criminal charges against Ayrapet Kasabyan, president of Hyros Corp., which operates Platinum Style Limousine Service.

The investigation found the vehicle had several mechanical violations and had been barred from service "for the safety of passengers."

"Mr. Kasabyan continued to use this vehicle for profit (51 times), exhibiting a malignant heart until the untimely death of the victim," the report said.

Authorities found that when Saraceno's body struck the door, it unexpectedly opened, causing him to fall to his death on the southbound 101 Freeway just north of Universal Studios Boulevard.

More than two dozen passengers were on board for a birthday party and some told officers the bus had jerked before Saraceno fell. At least two peopleattempted to save him.

Brothers Brandon Janssen, 26, and Justin Janssen, 23, both of Milford, Mich., described grabbing his hands and shirt but having to let go for fear they, too, would be pulled under the moving bus.

CHP officers said Saraceno was struck by other vehicles after he fell from the bus.

CHP commercial investigators inspected the bus after the fatal accident and determined the passenger door was not functioning properly and that Saraceno died after being run over by the bus' rear tires.

Darren Kavinoky, attorney for Kasabyan, could not be reached for comment. In an interview with investigators, Kasabyan said no driver had ever reported the door as not working properly.

He told investigators that perhaps someone inside the bus had pulled the "emergency release" to open the door and pushed Saraceno out, then closed it before alerting the driver.

That angered Saraceno's friends.

"The idea that he can make that statement without any evidence is infuriating because he's trying to cover his own butt," said William Wawro, Saraceno's friend and former roommate. "It shows you the character of the head of the company."

Michael Kelley, head of CHP's motor carrier safety unit, said the company was rated unsatisfactory in its last safety inspection, finished late last month.

Bus operators in California are required to undergo an annual inspection by a CHP commercial enforcement officer. The inspections are a condition of licensing by the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates all passenger carriers in the state.

The Sept. 29 death was the second fatality in the state that authorities say was the result of poor vehicle maintenance by the owner of a party bus company. Last May, authorities arrested bus operator Jon Reno St. James in connection with the death of Natasha Noland, 25. The Santa Cruz resident died when she and another woman fell from a party bus in Los Gatos in 2012.

A grand jury alleged St. James was negligent in the maintenance of the company's buses. He was charged with involuntary manslaughter and vehicular manslaughter.

Saraceno's parents have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Kasabyan and the bus driver. They are seeking unspecified damages and burial costs.

Saraceno earned a bachelor's degree from Tufts University near Boston. He moved from his home in Watertown, Conn., to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film and media.

"He always made me proud, so proud. I would tell him all the time," said his mother, Rita Saraceno. "He packed up his little Honda Civic and drove across the country to make a go of what he had done."

ruben.vives@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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