Local teens deserted on the way to prom after limo driver is arrested by M.P.s

| 21 Feb 2012 | 11:00

    CENTRAL VALLEY-The flashy dresses, the tuxes, the gelled hair and the polished nails are all part of the high school senior prom. And who could forget the stylish stretch limo? A dozen local kids may very well want to forget their limo ‘stylish' experience. Matt Laurent and Kevin Jacobsen wanted to spend last Friday night having fun and making memories at the Monroe-Woodbury High School senior prom, held at Eisenhower Hall at the U.S. Military Academy. They had fun and made memories, but they also encountered something which they were not laughing at during last Friday's prom at West Point. The indications of a possible foul-up, which would later take a turn for the worse, started before prom even began. "The limo was about an hour and fifteen minutes late," said 18 year-old Laurent. "We were all waiting at Mike's house (one of the dozen students going to prom in the limousine). Then we get a call that the limo was lost. He couldn't find his way. We tried to give directions but he couldn't understand. He didn't speak much English. One of the parents then had to lead him to the house." Laurent said that at that point he was just glad that the limo had shown up. But questions again arose after the limo driver needed to follow a parent's car to find West Point. That parent later said the driver was "moving side to side and not staying in the lines." The dozen prom kings and queens were anxious. They were moments away from their event at the lavish West Point. But next thing they know, they're not allowed in through the gates. "The limo is pulled to the side and we're all like, ‘What's going on?'" Laurent recalled. "A West Point military officer then told us that ‘everything was going to be aright,' that all of our ID's were good but the driver's wasn't. He was driving without a valid license." Their driver was now being arrested, leaving the kids stranded with no driver at the gate of the Orange County military base. The prom-goers had already missed the first course of the meal. Another limo driver from a different company, one whom had just dropped off his own clients, heard of the situation and offered to drive them through the security checkpoint and up to the prom hall. But what the students then realized was that this also meant that they were stranded with no way home. After prom ended at 11 p.m. and after numerous cell phone calls, the dozen were told that another limo with a new driver was on the way to pick them up. They waited. "We turned on the lobby TV and watched an episode of Seinfeld and two episodes of That 70's show," said Kevin Jacobsen. "That's how I know we waited for over an hour and a half." After giving up on waiting, the parents decided to take three large cars and pick up the tired dozen. School administration and faculty members stayed with the children until their parents arrived. Then Laurent's father got a call on his cell phone saying that the driver was lost in Middletown. At 1:30 in the morning, Laurent received another phone call, this from the driver, asking where the kids were and "why they weren't at the spot waiting for him." This came almost three hours after prom had ended. A West Point spokeswoman said that the matter was still being investigated by the military police and the academy was not ready to release specific information about the driver or the arrest by press time. But parents had plenty to say. "It was their night, I was a little upset, the night started off on the wrong foot," Wanda Jacobsen said. Kevin Jacobsen Sr. said: "I'm glad to see West Point is doing their best to protect our kids." "I think a limo company should at least see if a driver has a license - that would be their first step. I should put my kids in their car? At least have a driver's license!" he added. "I think the limo company was having a lack of communication, messages never got across," Wanda Jacobsen added. When contacted, Tishawn Merritt, manager of the New York City-based company, Tri-Star Limo Inc., said that they "have nothing to do with the situation." "We are a brokerage company, we don't have drivers or limos," Merritt said of the company whose slogan is "We are devoted to providing you with first class personal service and features - the ultimate in comfort, courtesy, reliability and dependability." Merritt said that she "was told that the driver had a clean record." She said her company takes orders from clients and then finds limousine companies to fill those orders, saying the responsibility rested with RDMC Limousine, the company that Tri-Star contacted for the West Point job. Merritt added that the families were given a full refund and an apology. Robert Blake, manager of RDMC Limousine, another New York City based company, said his company also had little to do with the situation. "The driver was an independent that we hired to do the job," he said. "It was his limo that he used and his responsibility to have a license. How do you go driving kids to a military base without having a license?" Blake added that the company had had no previous problems with the driver. "Three months ago, he was clean. Let's be realistic, you can't do that with any business. It's a mystery to me why this guy would do this. You don't think I want to grab him and pull him by the neck?" "This raises flags on what parents should look for," said Wanda Jacobsen, whose son, Kevin, a junior, attended the prom because he had a senior date. "This opens your eyes." Kevin Jacobsen Sr. chimed in, "Friday the 13th," shaking his head up and down, "Friday the 13th." But Kevin Jacobsen Jr. added an interesting way to look at the whole situation. "It wasn't a total disaster," he said. We'll all remember that time at prom when our driver got arrested. (It's) definitely a memory!"