NEW YORK – It's a familiar scene on city streets and in movies: dressed-up teenagers packed into a stretch limo, celebrating something important by jubilantly sticking their heads through the roof.
A bigger version of that is the rented party bus, which can pack in more guests. Renting such buses — some two stories high, offering such amenities as strobe lights and satellite TV — "is what kids call fun nowadays," said Emily Darocha of the Silver Star Limousine company. "We're talking about kids in the 21st century; that's how it is."
But such trips also carry more risk, as in the case this weekend of a New York teenager who poked his head through a hatch that had been opened on a double-decker bus loaded with dozens of dancing teens on their way to a party. Daniel Fernandez, 16, was fatally struck when the bus went under an overpass, authorities said.
"No matter how many times you tell clients this is an emergency exit — it's written on the glass — they still open it," says Darocha. "It happens all the time."
Her company in suburban Westchester County only offers single-level buses, Mercedes-Benzes that rent for up to $500 an hour.
Safety precautions must be part of the package, though, too. For a group of 40 guests, Silver Star requires two adults be aboard if the group is made up of teens or children 18 or under.
"It's much more dangerous when you have a double-decker with 65 kids — because they're hard to control," said Darocha.
In addition to the driver, a security guard was on board the bus Fernandez was riding on Friday that was taking the teens from New York City to a sweet 16 bash in New Jersey. Design Limousines of New York, which operated the double-decker bus, did not return calls seeking comment on whether other chaperones were on board.
The security guard said he watched for all but a few minutes, when, he told reporters, he'd gone downstairs. And that's when the hatch was opened, after the bus crossed the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey.
Other private transportation companies have altogether given up trying to safely entertain a bus full of teens.
A short drive from The Venetian, the event center that was the bus' destination in New Jersey on Friday night, is the Garden State Limousine company. The company offers sweet 16 party packages, "but no more party buses, not for years," says manager Joseph Ramsey. "It's not easy to deal with kids."
Even in limos, especially during prom season, "they open the sunroof after you tell them not to do this," he says. "They don't listen."