The party bus driver charged with endangering the welfare of a bus full of teenagers who were drinking alcohol on a trip to Montauk in April pleaded not guilty to the single misdemeanor charge in Southampton Town Justice Court last week.
Louis Guevara-Henriquz, 26, of Hempstead entered the not guilty plea during his arraignment last Wednesday, April 23, and later posted $5,000 bail.
Aside from his legal troubles, Mr. Guevara-Henriquz, a driver for Farmingdale-based Coachman Luxury Transport, also finds himself at the heart of a drive being orchestrated by two state lawmakers from the Bronx who want to tighten restrictions for minors riding inside party buses.
On April 14, Mr. Guevara-Henriquz picked up the 16- and 17-year-olds from Garden City and embarked on a trip to Montauk. A few hours later, Mr. Guevara-Henriquz pulled into the rest area between exits 65 and 66 on Sunrise Highway in Hampton Bays, where a 911 caller reportedly heard a girl screaming, according to police reports.
New York State Troopers responded to the call, and although they found no one in distress, they did find 42 intoxicated teenagers along with 100 cans of beer, gallons of hard liquor, and a party bus that had its interior trashed.
State Senator Jeffrey Klein, with the support of State Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, both of the Bronx, used the April 14 incident as the impetus for proposed legislation that would require adult supervision on party bus rides with at least 20 minors.
“We cannot allow our roadways to become free-for-alls for underage drinking,” Mr. Klein wrote in a press release announcing the bill. “We are incredibly lucky that none of the children on that bus was hurt. We cannot afford to take that chance again.”
The bill would make the term “party bus” an official definition under the state transportation law, separate from other charter buses, because of the ability for passengers to move about freely while it is moving. It also would require that at least one adult above the age of 21, other than the driver, be on board for every 20 underage passengers, or at least one chaperone per floor if it is a double-decker.
Drivers would need to obtain a special endorsement through the State Department of Transportation in order to drive a party bus.
Under the bill, these buses would have to be equipped with an alert system that notifies the driver if a window or door is opened without permission. If they are aware of a violation of safety rules or underage drinking on board, drivers will be obligated to end the trip immediately. Companies that fail to comply with these new rules three times or more will have their permits suspended for at least six months, according to the legislation.
State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. of Sag Harbor said earlier this month that he did not have a chance to review the exact language of the bill, but he said he thinks it touches on an important safety issue throughout Long Island, as well as the rest of the state.
Mr. Thiele equated the abuse of these party buses by minors to the trend of high school students renting houses on the East End specifically for post-prom parties.
“It’s clearly a problem that has manifested itself in a number of ways,” he said. “It’s a real problem. [The bill is] not just a reaction to a press item, based on what I’ve seen.”