(Photos: Central Marin Authority Facebook page)
LARKSPUR (KTVU)— A party bus full of teenagers was intercepted in Marin County Monday evening, with alcohol, marijuana, and prescription pills on board.
The Central Marin Police Agency received an anonymous tip just before 6 p.m., as the 45-passenger bus was loading.
The bus had been rented by a 16-year old boy from Tiburon.
"He's a good kid, and I'm sure he didn't want anything bad to happen," friend Ryan McGarvey told KTVU.
The incident, which resulted in the arrest of the bus driver, is the talk among teens in Central Marin.
"He told us people snuck the bottles in their bags or in their pockets," added another friend Britt Doyle," and he didn't know there was alcohol on board, because people didn't even ask if they could."
The teens say it's easy for underage customers to rent and ride in private coaches, for proms, birthday parties, or nights out.
"Someone our age can rent it online, and pay cash, and then everyone who comes pays $10 to get on," explained Doyle.
"You feel like this is safer than having a party at home, because you're moving, and you're not disturbing anyone, so you don't have to worry if police will come," said McGarvey.
But officers stopped the bus along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Larkspur, across the street from the ferry terminal, where it had been taking on passengers.
"As the officers pulled up, they could see the bus coming out, and the passenger door is open and swinging," described Margo Rohrbacher, spokeswoman for the Central Marin Police Agency.
Inside, police found 33 boys and girls, ages 15 to 17, and 30 bottles of hard alcohol, plus marijuana, and prescription pills.
"As soon as they got into the passenger section of the bus, they could smell the odor of alcohol and also marijuana," elaborated Rohrbacher.
The bus was to take the teens on a six-hour sightseeing excursion, through Marin and San Francisco, returning at midnight.
"The 16-year-old made all these arrangements online or by email, without an actual contract, and no one ever asked for his ID or a credit card," exclaimed Rohrbacker.
"The agreement was to pay $900 cash."
The driver, 63-year-old James Greene of San Francisco was never paid; instead he was initially arrested for felony child endangerment (a charge that was dropped on Wednesday) and nine other charges, including delinquency of a minor (misdemeanor), transporting persons under 21 in a charter carrier with alcohol, misdemeanor possession of meth, drug paraphernalia and a switchblade he was carrying on top of infractions for possession of marijuana and alcohol while driving.
Rohrbacher said he cooperated with the cops at first.
"What he told them was, there were kids on the bus and he was taking them to their parents, and he didn't know anything about alcohol on the bus." But as the story unfolded, Greene clammed up.
According to police Greene is in custody and will return to court Friday and has been denied release.
When he went to jail, the bus was retrieved up by its owner, from a company called Fantastic Voyage Express.
KTVU could find no website or location by that name, but did find a limo company in Oakland, where a previous owner of the bus said it has been sold a few times.
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will look into the bus operation, but police found the driver's license to carry passengers was valid. Police are working with CPUC on a parallel investigation into bus company practices
Greene was sober, as were the teenagers, when their parents were called to the scene to pick them up.
"Some of them were completely shocked," said Rohrbacher, of the parents' reactions.
Even those who were aware of a bus outing were under the impression it was something more wholesome.
"Oh, they were just going to have sodas, cookies and chips and drive around for a few hours," recounted Rohrbacher.
Teenagers who have ridden on party buses unsupervised say some drivers follow the rules, and halt the ride when alcohol comes out.
"If the driver doesn't allow it, then no one does it," observed 16-year-old Kelly Buchanan, also a friend of the boy who rented the coach.
"But if it's not enforced, then some people will go for it, I guess."
Marin County's high rate of binge drinking and drug abuse among youth is well-documented.
A variety of groups are working to combat the problem, and social host ordinances penalize those who hold underage parties.
Only one teen on the bus was cited, a 16-year-old girl in possession of prescription medications and fake ID cards.