CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - After a tragic limo crashed killed 20 people in upstate New York, Cleveland 19 began investigating Ohio bus and limo companies.
In the New York crash, the limo operator was arrested and charged with homicide.
The limo, taking a group on a wine tour, didn’t pass inspections and had critical violations.
The crash, the deadliest U.S. accident in nearly a decade.
Investigators found the limo failed multiple inspections.
Those violations were bad enough that the limo should have been off the road until fixed. Violations included having 18 seats, but only being certified to carry 10 passengers and having a dangling brake line.
Cleveland 19 dug through hundreds of inspections for limos and party buses completed by Ohio State High Patrol officers.
“You get a 10 year old vehicle and it’s been cut in half and put back together. You know where they put the wires back together and parts come together, you have a fatigue situation," said Larry Chrystal, owner of A-1 Mr. Limo in Wickliffe.
Chrystal said there are some bad apples in the transportation industry.
“Ours is an easy entry business. You can go out and buy a 12-, 14-year-old limousine for $10,000 and you’re in the limo business,” Chrystal said.
Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers do annual inspections on about 2,000 party buses and limos.
If they fail the inspection, that vehicle doesn’t get a license renewal.
Cleveland 19 sat in on an inspection on a party bus at Thomas Limousine in Akron. One light bulb out or tire pressure low and the bus could fail the inspection completely.
The bus passed.
Thomas Limousine General Manager, Brian Warren knows how critical inspections are to run a successful transportation business.
“Even though we check that in house, it’s better to have it done by the State of Ohio that way they can deem if the vehicle is roadworthy," Warren said.
Records showed a handful of other inspections at Thomas Limo passed with flying colors.
Same with A-1 Mr. Limo.
Out of 17 Northeast Ohio companies that offer limo and party bus services, Cleveland 19 found 119 violations over the course of two years.
Violations included defective emergency exits, brakes out of service, and axle positioning parts defective or missing.
All of those problems have been corrected and according to the state’s Public Utilities Commission, they’re in compliance.
The PUC also regularly inspects business and bookkeeping records like drivers hours.
“We’re trying to attack both goals of vehicle maintenance as well as driver safety," explained Ohio State Highway Patrol Lt. John Thorne.
All bus and limo drivers are required to have a commercial driving license or CDL. The driver in the New York crash didn’t have one.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration also holds records for drivers.
Cleveland 19 found only one violation among Northeast Ohio companies for a driver who was driving with a suspended CDL.
“Just because someone says it’s a limousine doesn’t mean that they have a chauffeur that’s trained and licensed. It doesn’t mean they have the proper insurance. They’re supposed to," Chrystal with A-1 Mr. Limo said.
Cleveland 19 has a breakdown of what to look for.
- A sticker on the side of a limo or bus shows it has had an inspection and it passed. Every limo or bus should have this sticker on the side. If there isn’t one don’t get on.
- Stick to limos or buses that are a decade or younger. In the crash in upstate New York, the limo was more than 17-years-old.
- Go straight to the business to check it out for yourself. The limo company in upstate New York was operating out of a low budget motel. Make sure the bus or limo you are renting has a number that matches up to the number on your contract.
- Ask to see inspection reports, drivers licenses, and insurance records. If they don’t show you, consider it a red flag.
- Check reviews online. Some concerns make not show up in an inspection, but could be the difference between a fun night out and a disaster.
Another important reason for visiting a company before you book, a lot of places will use stock pictures on their websites, but in person, their limos and buses are old and outdated.
Bottom line, if you see it in person and it doesn’t look safe, don’t book.
You can review inspection reports from the Ohio Public Utilities Commission by clicking here.
Click here to view inspection ans safety ratings from the US Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carriers Inspection.