No Charges After Woman's Deadly Fall From Vancouver Party Bus

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VANCOUVER — The grieving mother of a 23-year-old woman who died after falling out of a party bus says she's heartbroken that criminal charges won't be laid in the case.

Vancouver police said Tuesday that a malfunctioning door was a main factor in the death of Chelsea James. The owner and driver have been fined under the Motor Vehicle Act, but there is no offence in the Criminal Code to charge them with, police said.

"We just think it's crazy that there's nothing, after you've adapted a door that didn't work and there's been a death," said the young woman's mother, Shelly James, through tears.

"That breaks our hearts."

chelsea james
James was 23 years old. (Photo: Vancouver Police Department)

Police said James lost her balance as the bus was making a left turn in downtown Vancouver on Jan. 9. She stumbled into the stairwell and against the pneumatic passenger door, which opened suddenly. She fell out of the door and was struck by the bus.

James, an educational assistant from Langley, B.C., was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police determined that a mechanical malfunction and low operating pressure on the pneumatic door were the main contributing factors in her death.

Sgt. Brian Montague said air pressure and latches were supposed to keep the door closed, but it was not functioning properly and so the door was easily opened simply by pushing it.

He said work to repair a faulty latch on the door is believed to have caused the malfunction.

"That breaks our hearts."

Silver Lady Limousine Services, the owner of the bus, did not respond to a request for comment. President and owner Douglas LeMoine expressed his "deepest sympathies" to the family in January.

Montague said the owner and driver were fined for operating an unsafe vehicle and for driving with liquor inside a vehicle, which carry maximum fines of $311 and $230, respectively.

Shelly James said she isn't considering a lawsuit at this time but she wants the company to be held accountable through tougher regulation of the industry.

In an emotional interview, she said her daughter was planning on applying to university this year to become a teacher.

"She loved the kids, the kids loved her. She was a ray of sunshine wherever she went. She was my best friend," James said, her voice shaking with sobs.

"It's a struggle day to day to be without her."

James had planned to travel with her daughter and son to El Salvador to build homes this fall. Instead, she and her son will board a plane on Saturday without her.

"It's a struggle day to day to be without her," she said.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone said in a statement that the Commercial Vehicle Safety Enforcement branch has been working closely with police.

Now that the investigation is complete, the branch will review the findings and determine if further action against the parties is warranted, he said.

Party buses undergo rigorous safety inspections: ministry

Ministry spokeswoman Kate Mukasa said party buses are required to undergo rigorous safety inspections performed by trade-qualified mechanics twice a year.

Police have issued four violation tickets to Silver Lady Limousine Services in the past two years: two for running a red light and two for open liquor in a vehicle, one of which is being disputed by the company, according to the ministry.

The company passed its last semi-annual vehicle inspection on Sept. 30, 2015, the ministry said.

The province tightened rules for the limousine and party bus industry in February 2015. It required the Passenger Transportation Board to approve each vehicle for a special authorization licence and regulate rates, areas of operation and fleet size.

The changes followed the separate deaths of 16-year-olds Shannon Raymond and Ernest Azoadam.

Raymond and Azoadam died in 2008 and 2013, respectively, in incidents related to party buses in the Metro Vancouver communities of Maple Ridge and Surrey.