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Dozens upset with local driving academy for temporarily suspending services

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GONZALES- A number of parents and their children feel like they've been taken for a ride by a local driving school. Last week, they received a letter saying a key portion of their children's driving requirements will be suspended for the next few months.

The parents enrolled their children into Smart Start Driving Academy, but they haven't been able to get their work completed. The owner, Ron Thomas said he's in a tough spot trying to get his business back up and running due to the flooding in the area.

"When you call, no one answers at all," Amanda Barbier, parent, said.

Her head is still spinning from a bumpy ride she says she was taken on. Her step-daughter completed the 30 hours of classroom instruction at Smart Start, but can't get her license until she does the driving portion.

Jennifer Neal's son is in the same boat.

"No calls back, no emails back, nothing," Neal said.

Both parents paid $250 for 30 hours of classroom instruction and eight hours of driving tests.

"We're going to have to take it as far as we can," Barbier said. "We're out of our money."
 
Parents received an email last week. Part of it reads, "as a result of the flooding, our offices in Baton Rouge and Gonzales are not fully functional and all behind-the-wheel (driving) sessions have been suspended at this time. We hope to be back up in running in the next few months."

After not getting anywhere by calling, Neal reported the company to the state.

"I reported Smart Start to the State Attorney General's Office," Neal said.

We went looking for answers Wednesday. Owner Ron Thomas told WBRZ, he employed nearly 30 people before the flood. After, only about ten came back to work, and that's why he's asking customers to bear with them.

"Because we are short-staffed, we don't have anyone to man the phones but we will respond to emails a lot quicker," Thomas said.

Thomas said this has nothing to do with not fulfilling his end of the agreement. He just can't do it right now, since three of his vehicles flooded and he needs to get his staff back to continue operating normally.

"We've trained over 8,000 students since 2013 and to insinuate we are scamming people is totally false," Thomas said. "That's not who I am, and that's not what Smart Start is."

Thomas said he's working on getting people who completed the 30 hours of classroom training a partial refund. He estimates it could be near $100.

The company can be reached by email at info@smartstartdrivingacademy.org

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