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A French student who organized the “party bus” trip to Hollywood for fellow students from the EF International Language School that ended in the tragic death of a 17-year-old boy from Denmark admitted guilt this week of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Jeremy Touche, 22, pled no contest to the misdemeanor charge at Superior Court in Torrance Tuesday morning. He was sentenced to three years of informal probation, 30 days of jail, 15 days of Caltrans work, roughly $1,000 in fines, and required attendance in 26 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. His surrender date is this Friday.
The charges stem from events that occurred in the early hours of Oct. 9, when 17-year-old Mikkel Andersen was left behind at a gas station in Los Angeles as the chartered party bus made its way back to Redondo Beach. Andersen was killed while trying to cross the 110 Freeway on foot. A coroner’s report indicated his blood alcohol level was .27, three times the legal limit for driving in California.
City Prosecutor Brenda Wells said she hoped that Touche’s prosecution would help serve as a deterrent for similar “party bus” excursions. Police reports indicated Touche charged each student $40 for transportation and alcohol, and that such trips had become common among students at the language school, which is located in Riviera Village.“We would like to prevent this type of tragedy from happening in the future, and I think one of the ways to do that is to stop it before it even gets started,” Wells said. “I think by sending a message in this case and other similar cases, hopefully we will be able to prevent such tragedies from happening in the future.”
Touche’s attorney, Ryan Okabe, said that he and his client believe that due to the loss of life the sentencing was appropriate. “We believe it is fair,” Okabe said.
But Okabe also suggested that responsibility for Andersen’s death belonged more to the bus operator and to the school itself, which he claimed had organized such trips earlier last year. When the school stopped organizing the trips, Okabe said, students took over. He said his client is nonetheless remorseful for his role in Andersen’s death.
“This is a tragedy, and he knows it’s a tragedy,” Okabe said. “But what we really have to do is focus on the responsible parties here…I think the school should be held responsible for looking after these students, and we should hold the limo and bus operators responsible. I mean, these are the responsible adults here, and they should really watch over who is responsible for these buses.”
Okabe said he supports pending state legislation that would make it easier to hold party bus operators responsible for such occurrences.
Francy Ronayne, a spokesperson for EF International Language Schools, strongly denied the school had any involvement in party buses and said that underage drinking is strictly against school policies.
“Any assertion that we have been involved in the organization of party buses is absolutely inaccurate,” she said. “In the rare instances when we have heard there may be a party bus off campus, we have alerted the police so they can intervene….We are vigilant about policing our campuses and have been working closely with the Redondo Beach Police Department to do everything we can to stem underage drinking. We fully support efforts to regulate these buses.”