Four friends who were on a double-decker bus when their 16-year-old friend struck his head on an overpass and died said they were not given any safety instructions before boarding the bus Thursday.
The double-decker bus with Starline Tours chartered for a private birthday party was traveling south before 8 p.m. Thursday on the San Diego (405) Freeway near the Arbor Vitae Street overpass when the incident happened, said CHP Officer Edgar Figueroa.
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The teen was identified as Mason Zisette, according to the coroner's office.
Gage Stroman, a senior at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, said he and a group of friends, including Zisette, were dancing on the upper-deck of the bus while it was on the freeway.
They became increasing concerned as they noticed the approaching overpasses, they said.
"Each one we came by was getting lower and lower," said Matteo Carella, a friend of Zisette's. "It was a span of three in a row that were really low."
Zisette was facing the group with his back turned to the overpass and may have been taking a photo when the incident happened, according to Stroman.
"Then one of our friends said, 'duck!'" he said. "We all ducked and we got back up and the next thing we know, we turned around we heard a scream from a couple rows back and he's on the floor unconscious."
Zisette was not responsive as his friends tried to help him while they waited for paramedics to arrive, they said.
The group was not given any instructions on whether standing was allowed on the upper deck of the bus before they boarded, according to Ryan Ramey, a friend.
They said they did not realize the bus had seat belts until after the incident.
"When the police came, they go 'were you guys wearing seat belts?' We were like --'seat belts?' We looked down, we didn't even know there were seat belts," said Ramey.
"The seat belts were literally buried under the seats," said Stroman.
The California Highway Patrol confirmed that the bus had seat belts. Per state law, if a vehicle has seat belts, passengers are required to wear them.
Starline Tours is properly licensed and insured according to the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates tour bus companies.
Starline Tours officials said in a statement on Monday that they extended their "sincere condolences and prayers to the families affected by the tragedy which occurred last Thursday night aboard one of our buses while operating a private charter.
Safety is always our foremost concern with all our passengers," the statement said. "This accident is still being investigated and we are working with authorities concerning this matter. As soon as we have more information we will make it available."
There were snacks and non-alcoholic drinks being served on the bus, according to Stroman, but he could not be sure whether other drinks may have been brought onto the bus.
The CHP is investigating the accident whether alcohol was present on the bus at the time of the incident.