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State shuts down driving school that left students out in the cold

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GONZALES- The State Office of Motor Vehicles revoked the license of a local driving school after it fell behind on 3,000 students waiting to take the driving portion of their education.

Stephen Cherry is still dizzy from the ride he says he went on with Smart Start Driving School.

"I've had a very difficult experience, and I know there are others out there," Cherry said.

His 16-year-old daughter, Taylor completed the classroom portion of her driver's education. However, when she went to finish her driving portion which is required to get her license, they ran into dead ends.

"I have not gotten my money back, and my daughter still doesn't have her driver's license."

Their story familiar to the state. In October, Smart Start Driving Academy's License was revoked. The state says the owner didn't fulfill the school's obligation for 3,000 students on the driving portion of the certification.

Four months ago when people were having problems, they could at least get some answers here at the physical location. The building in Gonzales is where the owner was. It's also where a receptionist was taking calls. Today, the door is locked, and there's not even a desk inside.

Last year, Owner Ron Thomas told WBRZ he ran his business above board.

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

But tonight, getting answers from the school that was once operational is impossible.

The phone line is no longer in service. Cars that once sat in front are gone. Nearly 100 people are part of a Facebook group called Victims of Smart Start. Cherry is hoping someone steps in to refund his money after paying for a service his daughter didn't fully receive.

"I have to pay the full amount for a driving school because they aren't going to accept a portion of the payment," Cherry said. "I need the certificate showing she's passed the classroom portion from Smart Start."

If you paid Smart Start and didn't receive a certificate for the classroom portion, the State Office of Motor Vehicles wants to hear from you. The number to call is 225-925-1795.


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