Jimmy Larsen, left, and his sister Brittney Larsen in an undated photo. (Kimberly Larsen)
Mom fears improper maintenance in son's freak death on party bus
Jimmy Larsen planned to be at Northerly Island next weekend, catching the Dave Matthews Band concert with his sister Brittney, waiting for favorite songs like "Warehouse," "Sister" or "Bartender."
He also particularly loved the song "The Best of What's Around," and to the 27-year-old, yet another DMB concert – he'd already been to more than 30 – was exactly that: the best way to spend time.
Larsen died early Saturday morning on the Tri-State Tollway, on his way home to Libertyville in a 2012 Freightliner limo, or what's commonly known as a party bus, officials said.
Now, his mom, Kimberly Larsen, said the entire family plans to attend the concert as a way of honoring the phenomenal writer, middle child, football- and dog-loving technology genius.
"He was going to go with Brittney. They went every year; it was an annual tradition," she said Sunday. "We're going to go in his honor. He'll be there; he'll be with us."
Illinois State Police responded to I-294 North at Lake Cook Road near Deerfield about 3 a.m. Saturday after a report that a man had fallen out the party bus doors and into traffic where he was struck by a black SUV that failed to stop after the collision, officials said. According to the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office, Larsen's death was accidental, and the result of multiple blunt force injuries after being struck by a motor vehicle.
Jimmy Larsen, right, with his siblings Joe, left, and Brittney, center, in an undated photo. (Kimberly Larsen)
Initial reports indicated Larsen went to turn up the volume on the radio when he somehow stumbled and, in an instant, he fell from the bus onto the pavement below. Investigators believe his weight alone, as it unexpectedly pressed against the glass of the door, was enough to throw it open, sending him tumbling outside.
"It was just a freak accident is basically what it was," said Master Sgt. Heather Poerio. "One of the passengers stood up near the driver, and he was adjusting the radio and he fell. He fell down the stairs and out the door of the bus."
Kimberly Larsen said she believed her son was celebrating a birthday of a former co-worker at Uline, a shipping supply and packaging company where he had been a customer service representative.
She said she thought the group of co-workers had been in Rosemont for some dinner and drinks. The bus was a way to travel safely. She said her son's car was parked at Gurnee Mills, where he had planned to leave it.
"He was a wonderful young man whose life was cut short. He had his entire life ahead of him. And then this — I don't even want to say accident — it feels like this could have been avoided so easily," Kimberly Larsen said.
She said her son, who was a University of Missouri graduate, loved to write and he maintained a blog. He loved Apple products and was a wiz when it came to technology. He also loved his dogs, Ellie, a yellow Lab, and Naomi, a black Lab. His younger brother Joe is getting married this year — it will be the first big life milestone among her three kids, Kimberly Larsen said — and Jimmy was supposed to be the best man.
"I am crushed by this. I will never be the same," she said, as she began to cry.
Larsen is concerned the door her son fell out of — a single-pane hydraulic door, not the double-paned doors that connect in the middle with a rubber seal — was not properly maintained and malfunctioned when her son fell against it.
"One of the gals who was with them is very pregnant, really far along. I mean this could've been an unborn child as well. It's just crazy to me that this could've been even worse," she said.
She added that a cursory glance online shows how frequent such accidents are. Illinois State Police spokesman Master Sgt. Jason Bradley said in more than 15 years in law enforcement he has never encountered or heard of this type of accident but, in the wake of Saturday's incident, he has since been told it's more common than one would think.
In California in 2013, a 24-year-old man was changing the music that was playing when he fell through a door onto the 101 Freeway, where he was struck by several vehicles near Universal City. The Los Angeles city attorney's office filed criminal charges — related to safety issues — the following year against the owner of the party bus, and the victim's family pursued a wrongful death claim.
In 2014, the Los Angeles Times cited a report that linked 21 deaths to party buses nationwide between 2009 and 2013 — the majority involving passengers falling from the vehicle. In four of the cases, passengers died after striking a highway overpass. It also reported that business was booming, with 6,000 party bus carriers in California alone in 2009 and 9,000 in 2014.
Investigators are still looking for the driver of the black SUV whose bumper was left behind after the accident, Bradley said. While troopers will continue that investigation, he explained that a commercial vehicle enforcement officer also was called to the scene in the early hours of Saturday morning to launch an investigation into a separate set of federal motor carrier safety regulations that businesses must abide by. No citations had been issued as of Sunday, he said.
"A full inspection will be done on that," Bradley said. "They will examine how the doors opened, if it's a safety flaw, if nothing mechanical went wrong, if there is a locking mechanism that should've been locked that wasn't — there are several different ways those doors could've opened and it will be investigated and looked into. All of that is putting the cart before the horse though because we don't know at this point if there was a flaw, if there was a violation."
Kimberly Larsen said she's worried there is a pattern of the hydraulics not being maintained and that issue may be leading to these types of tragedies.
"I don't know how a door on a bus opens when you're in transit; that's not right. It shouldn't happen that way," she said.
She said she doesn't know exactly what happened on the bus, but the fact that there have been similar accidents on other party buses is cause for concern."I want to put the word out. I want this to never happen to another family," she said.
A suburban Illinois man died in what police called a "freak accident" early Saturday, tumbling out of a moving party bus while attempting to turn up the radio.
James J. Larsen, 27, was on the bus as it headed northbound on I-294 near Lake Cook Road in Northbrook at about 3 a.m., Illinois State Police said in a release.
He was trying to turn up the radio volume when authorities said he tripped, falling down the stairs and out the bus door. He then fell backwards onto the expressway and an unknown car struck him, according to police.
Larsen, of Libertyville, was pronounced dead at the scene, officials said.
Man Dies in 'Freak Accident' on Party Bus: Police
Illinois State Police investigate the scene on I-294 near Lake Cook Road, where a 27-year-old man was killed in a 'freak accident' on a moving party bus early Saturday. (Published Saturday, June 3, 2017)
Larsen, who often went by Jim or Jimmy, "was a very smart young man, doing the right thing - not drinking and driving. He was out with his friends having a good time," his mother said in a statement. "We were so proud of him and so saddened that his life was cut short. He had his whole life ahead of him."
"We loved him so very much," she added. "He was truly the love of our family."
"Our only hope is that something good comes out of this senseless tragedy and this NEVER happens to another family," her statement ended.
No foul play is suspected and authorities said they do not currently believe anything criminal occurred, according to Illinois State Police.
However, they continue to search for the driver of the car that struck Larsen for questioning, adding that it's possible the driver did not realize they had struck someone. Investigators recovered a part of the car's bumper at the scene and are trying to determine what kind of vehicle it came from, police said.
The party bus was described as a 2012 freightliner party limo with a capacity of 32 people, according to police. 25 to 30 people were onboard the bus at the time of crash, authorities said, and the driver of the bus may have been going about 70 mph.
Officials said the bus door was a single-pane door activated by hydraulic pressure that opens and slides out, rather than a traditional double door as seen on most school buses.
Police are investigating why the door opened, and whether it may have malfunctioned during the incident.
Safety on party buses has been in the spotlight in recent years, with numerous fatal accidents reported across the country.
A similar incident occurred on a party bus in Los Angeles in 2015. Christopher Saraceno, 24, lost his balance, fell down the stairs and out the door before being struck and killed.
Without strict regulatory oversight, experts urge passengers to use extra caution when aboard a party bus.
"We will just have to check ourselves," said National Safety Council spokeswoman Maureen Vogel. "We want celebrations to be celebrations and not turn into tragedies."
"We definitely need to just be aware of our surroundings," Vogel added. "Just because someone else is driving the vehicle doesn't mean that we shouldn't exercise the same safety that we would if we were the driver."
The two right lanes of northbound I-294 were closed following Saturday's crash, but reopened several hours later.
The investigation remains ongoing, according to police.