A limousine ride to the Tonawanda High School homecoming dance turned into a night of horror for nine teen-agers Saturday as their driver and his companion reportedly drove them aimlessly, erratically and at high speeds while verbally abusing them.
Their wild ride ended in downtown Buffalo, where one of the teen-agers bolted from the limousine and ran to Police Headquarters for help.
"It was a nightmare," said Maria Neuner, a 16-year-old Tonawanda High School junior. "I was hysterical. I could not believe this was happening."
Police later arrested the Niagara Falls limousine driver for Action Limo of Niagara Falls and a man who had accompanied him.
Matthew G. Marra, 29, of Niagara Street, Niagara Falls, was charged with nine counts of endangering the welfare of a minor, harassment, driving with a suspended license and reckless driving. His companion, Robert L. D'Amico, 36, of Lindbergh Avenue, Niagara Falls, was charged with verbal harassment.
Buffalo Police Lt. Salvatore Losi said that, despite complaints by the teen-agers that Marra had been drinking, Marra was not charged with driving while intoxicated.
"The driver did not appear intoxicated. The other person (D'Amico) definitely was intoxicated and belligerent, but, according to the witnesses, he never got behind the wheel of the car, so we could not charge him, either, though we were definitely looking at that possibility," Losi said.
Elaine Neuner, Maria's mother, said she had a bad feeling about the driver when he showed up at their home at about 7:20 p.m. Saturday to pick up her daughter and some friends to take them to Tonawanda High for the homecoming dance.
"I had a funny feeling. I told him, 'I hope you're not drinking and driving with these kids.' He couldn't answer me right away. I should have followed my instincts," Mrs. Neuner said.
Her daughter, Maria, said she was puzzled at first to see that he had an adult companion.
"He told us he was training him. I didn't think anything about it until he peeled out of my driveway, went through several stop signs, went through red lights and did not pay any attention to road rules," she said.
Marra eventually dropped the teens off at the high school and returned for them at 11:15 p.m.
"He said we could do whatever we wanted to do. He didn't care," Maria said.
The teen-agers requested to go to the Friday's restaurant in downtown Buffalo.
The trip to Buffalo became a two-hour odyssey, circling downtown streets and Delaware Park and zipping onto the Skyway, Maria said.
"We were on the Skyway and he was driving like 80 mph," she said. "I wanted to know where we were going. I was flipping out."
Eventually, she said, they were dropped off at Friday's. It was closed, but Marra and D'Amico threatened them with physical harm and demanded that they get out, Maria said.
"He told us to get . . . out of the car or he was going to beat (us up). . . . We got out, and they sped off," she said.
The limousine showed up about two hours later.
"The driver's eyes were all glassy. We asked him to take us home, but he refused," Maria said. "He said he was loaded after drinking at bars and wasn't through partying."
Maria said that after she criticized Marra's driving, he slammed on the brakes, D'Amico lunged for her, and she fled from the car.
The girl said that she ran from Church Street and South Elmwood Avenue to Police Headquarters at Franklin and Church streets and that two passers-by assisted her. The other youngsters, meanwhile, bolted and flagged down a Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority patrol car.
None of the youngsters was physically hurt, Mrs. Neuner said, "But they were all afraid. My daughter's feet are hurt and bruised from running in high-heeled shoes."
Mrs. Neuner said she asked the teens why, with at least two opportunities to call home and end their nightmare, they didn't.
"None of the nine did. When I asked them, they were, like, 'We thought, why bother calling? We just wanted them (Marra and D'Amico) to come back and just take us home,' or this one didn't want to call a parent because he had to work in the morning. It doesn't make sense, and I'm surprised at Maria, because we always tell to call home immediately if there's a problem," Mrs. Neuner said.