BURLINGAME (CBS 5) — The parents of a Burlingame teen say he died after a night of heavy drinking on a party bus. The buses are the new go-to mode of transportation for teens on a big night. Teens should not be drinking on board, but there are no regulations to stop them.
Brett Studebaker was 19 years old, a college freshman pursuing a career in music.
“He was pursuing his dream,” said his father, Doug Studebaker.
But last February his life was cut short in a drunk driving crash on Highway 101 near San Mateo. Brett was the drunk driver. “He had a very high alcohol level in his blood,” said his mother Linda Studebaker.
According to his parents, Brett had more than three times the legal limit. They say the accident would never have happened if their teenage son had not been allowed to drink heavily on a party bus right before he got in his car.
Operated by Hobo Limo, the party bus he rode was equipped with a stripper pole, a dance floor, three bars and a laser light show. The company website said alcohol may only be consumed by passengers over 21. But the Studebakers said, “Obviously they didn’t check for ID, because Brett was 19. He did not have any fake ID at all.”
The website also said if anyone under 21 is caught drinking it’s considered “grounds for termination of services.” But Doug Studebaker said, “Clearly that didn’t happen.” And Linda Studebaker said she believes, “they are driving kids under age around just for the sole purpose of getting drunk.”
The company, headquartered near Modesto, would not talk on camera but told CBS 5 Hobo Limo did not provide the alcohol, and the person who hired the bus signed a document saying no one under 21 would consume alcohol.
At least one other California teenager died this year after drinking on a so-called “booze cruise.” So what’s going on? CBS 5 took the question to the California Public Utilities Commission, the agency that is supposed to oversee charter party carriers
CPUC senior investigator Moira Simmerson said underage drinking on limousines has become a growing issue. She said the current regulations call passengers under 21 to sign a statement. “It tells them no drinking, no containers of alcohol in the vehicle.”
But Simmerson admitted, “Kids will sneak!” When asked why companies aren’t not simply checking ID’s, she responded, “I don’t think that the driver is going to want to offend customers by demanding that they produce ID.”
And there’s another problem. “The underage drinking requirement related to limos doesn’t apply to buses,” Simmerson told CBS 5.
The current regulations apply only to limos, not party buses. That’ is something Assemblyman Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) wants to change. “This is a loophole that you could drive a party bus through,” he said.
Hill just introduced a bill that would close the loophole. Drivers could also face criminal charges.
“They have to take some responsibility, especially if minors are on board, and especially if alcohol is being served,” Hill said.
The bill is named after Brett Studebaker. His parents hope it will make a difference. “Brett is gone, our only son is gone. And if this can save one person’s life, it will mean something.”
The Studebakers have filed a lawsuit against Hobo Limo, claiming negligence. The company denies any wrongdoing.
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