CHP recommends murder charge in 101 Freeway 'party bus' death

CHP recommends murder charge in 101 Freeway 'party bus' death
Area where "party bus" death occurred in September 2013. (Google Maps)

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 also 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 read.

Authorities found that when Saraceno's body struck the door, the door 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 at the time and some told officers the bus had jerked before Saraceno fell. At least two others attempted to save him.

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.

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 push 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. "Its 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, which was 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 company also failed to conduct an annual review of driving records.

The Sept. 29 incident in Studio City 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.

In May, authorities arrested bus operator John 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.

Authorities said the women were fighting when they fell out. Noland was the only fatality in the incident.

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

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

During a recent telephone interview, Rita Saraceno spoke about her late son, who she said was fearless.

"Everything thing he did amazed," she said.

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

Ambitious, intelligent and upbeat, Saraceno was working his way to success. He served as an assistant for Liam Neeson during the filming of "The Taken II."

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