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D.A. won't charge party bus owner for fatal freeway fall

Public Transportation DisastersDisasters and AccidentsTransportation DisastersHomicideCrime
'If the CHP could not detect the defect with their level of expertise, how could our suspect be expected to?'

The owner of a party bus will not face felony manslaughter charges stemming from the death of a man who fell off the bus and died last year, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said Thursday.

The California Highway Patrol had recommended that murder charges be filed in  the death of Christopher "C.J." Saraceno II, one of several dozen party-goers on the bus for a birthday celebration.

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FOR THE RECORD

An earlier version of this post said the incident occurred Oct. 29; it occurred Sept. 29. Also, the Santa Clara case involved two women, not two men.

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Authorities said a previous CHP investigation had found the bus had multiple defects and had been ordered out of service.

But the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said there wasn't enough evidence to support even lesser charges of vehicular manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter against Ayrapet Kasabyan, 42.

The case has been forwarded to the city attorney's office for misdemeanor consideration.

During a birthday party celebration on the morning of Sept. 29, Saraceno, 24,  was standing by the passenger door of the bus, tuning the radio. The bus jerked, passengers reported, and Saraceno lost his balance and fell down the stairwell.

Authorities said the door flew open while the bus was traveling south on the 101 Freeway near Universal Studios Boulevard.

Friends tried to grab Saraceno as he gripped the bottom step and a metal handle but he fell to the asphalt where he was struck by several cars, according to the CHP.

A CHP report determined that the door was equipped with a faulty air compressor and did not properly lock.

Even though the bus had been ordered off the road for safety reasons, it had been used 51 times since the order to cease operation was issued, the CHP found.

"At no time, per Mr. Kasabyan's own records was there an attempt to properly fix this vehicle," the CHP report stated. "Conversely, the maintenance of the vehicle deteriorated to the point of a death occurred."

In an evaluation memo, Deputy Dist. Atty. John Gilligan wrote that since the order for the bus to stay out of service was unrelated to the defective door, his office could not prove negligence on the part of Kasabyan.

"If the CHP could not detect the defect with their level of expertise, how could our suspect be expected to?" Gilligan wrote.

Gilligan added that he considered a similar case in Santa Clara County, where one woman died and another was injured after a scuffle aboard a party bus led to both falling out.

Prosecutors there decided to press felony charges against the owner because he knew of the door's defects.

In this case, Gilligan wrote, since neither Kasabyan nor any drivers knew of the problems with the door before the death, there was not enough evidence of gross negligence.

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Twitter: @ryanvmenezes

ryan.menezes@latimes.com

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