Suddenly shut-down driving school leaves teens, parents with headaches

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KTVU) -- An established driving school in Palo Alto has closed unexpectedly, leaving student drivers without instruction and with little recourse to get their money back.

Frustrated families are having a hard time getting answers from the now defunct Stanford Driving School.

Like many other 16-year-olds, Max Lenail had been eager to get behind the wheel. But instead of holding a new driver's license, he's now looking for a new driving school to teach him.

"I was definitely angry. It's definitely frustrating. I was looking forward to having free time and being able to do it," said Max.

His family had signed him up with Stanford Driving School and paid $375 dollars. Then a letter unexpectedly came in the mail saying the driving school had closed.

"So there was no recourse, no way to contact anyone, no explanation as to what had truly happened," explained Max's father Ben Lenail.

The office, which moved from Palo Alto to Los Altos, is now closed completely. The website and phones have been shut down.

Cathy Sechrist had planned to buy the business, but says there were things disclosed in the escrow process that would have made the sale impossible. And so the previous owner shut it down.

"My deepest apologies to everyone affected, especially the employees who lost their jobs," said Sechrist.

Beyond that, hundreds of potential students were affected, some of whom paid money through the month of May.

"The school conveyed an impression that they were open for business and they kept taking people until the very last minute, which is really disingenuous," said Ben Lenail.

Many of those people are turning to other schools now. A representative for the California Driver Academy in Menlo Park said their phones have been ringing off the hook.

They say new students will need a letter proving how many hours they've already completed.

"We're doing the best we can. We've opened up instructors availabilities to try to squeeze in as many people as possible," says California Driver Academy's Mercedes Zelaya.

They're actually hiring more staff, and offering discounts to Stanford Driving students left in the lurch. But for those in a hurry, there's a problem. The school is already booked through July.

"It will definitely be a huge speed bump along the way. Yeah, it's frustrating," said Max Lenail.

Those affected can file a complaint online with the DMV, but that doesn't mean you'll get your money back. Some people have had luck halting payment through their credit card companies. Others say they are considering some sort of civil claim.

To file a complaint against the school, interested parties can try the California DMV website.