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Tuesday
Sep032013

Teen's Death on Party Bus Blamed on Booze

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- It was a horrific accident: a teenager bound for a Sweet 16 party on a bus with friends stuck his head out of a rooftop hatch, struck an overpass and was killed almost instantly.

Behind that gruesome scene a year ago on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge was a series of failures regarding the qualifications of the driver as well as problems with the bus, according to a confidential investigative report obtained by ABC News.

The key thing, police determined, was the victim, Daniel Fernandez, 16, had been drinking heavily and had a blood-alcohol level of .209 percent -- more than twice the limit for those who can drink legally. So, as investigator John Pierotti Jr. wrote months later, Fernandez's "impairment contributed to the cause of the collision."

Authorities in both New York and New Jersey have declined to press criminal charges. The findings of the probe by the Port Authority Police Department have never been released.

The accident occurred on Aug. 31, 2012, as 64 teens traveled from St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens, N.Y., to the party in Garfield, N.J. As the bus -- called a "Double Decker Mega Liner" -- made its way from the bridge to the New Jersey Turnpike about 6:30 p.m., Fernandez did what he and his friends had been doing much of the ride, investigators determined, and stuck his head out of the emergency hatch on the roof. As the bus moved just below the Fletcher Avenue overpass, Fernandez was nearly decapitated and thrown violently to the floor as his horrified friends watched. "Panic ensued," investigators wrote in the document stamped "preliminary" and dated Jan. 22, 2013. One witness said kids ran down to the driver, shouting "oh my God, something upstairs'…the juveniles were hysterical," according to the report. Passengers "were taking off their shirts and trying to stop the bleeding from the victim's face."

At the scene, Fernandez didn't have a pulse and was not breathing, the report said. He was declared dead at a nearby hospital 45 minutes later. Cause of death was blunt-force injuries to the head.

In addition to Fernandez's blood-alcohol level, investigators found:

  • The driver, Fedna Balthazar, then 45, had an outstanding warrant for his arrest for failure to appear in court on a summons for driving with a suspended license. He was arrested the night of the accident, made bail and was released.
  • Balthazar also had a driving history that showed a record of moving violations and suspensions back to the 1980s.
  • The party bus was longer than legally allowed on the road, violating its size permit in both New York and New Jersey.
  • There was only one adult chaperone on the bus when there was supposed to be two. Both the bus company and the parent who rented it pointed the finger at each other, saying the other one was supposed to provide the second chaperone.
  • The roof hatch was not secure. It should have been sealed, but popped open after the bus hit a bump.
  • Fernandez was one of a number of kids who had been drinking booze before boarding the bus. One girl told investigators "someone bought (sic) alcohol on bus. Was in an Arizona bottle…Bus driver found a bottle and spoke to us."

Fernandez's parents told ABC News affiliate WABC they do not want to discuss the accident.

A man who answered the phone at the office of bus owner Designer Limousines Inc. of Port Washington, N.Y., said he would relay a message from ABC News but that message has not been returned.

The driver did not respond to messages.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio