Special Reports

Drive-school prince hit with charges

The son of Washington’s driving-school king, who hopes to create his own empire, could be derailed by a three-year-old speeding ticket.

On Feb. 24, Clallam County prosecutors charged Spanaway resident Sean Probst with forgery, claiming he filed a phony document with the court to beat a 2003 traffic citation.

Probst is scheduled for arraignment March 24.

A conviction could sink Probst’s efforts to open new Dynasty Driving schools in 40 Washington cities.

State law allows the Department of Licensing to deny a school license if the applicant is convicted of a felony. Forgery, a class C felony, carries maximum penalties of five years in prison and a fine of $10,000.

Probst told The News Tribune on Thursday he was unaware of the charges.

Probst, a licensed driving instructor, was cited for speeding Jan. 23, 2003, in Clallam County. He contested the ticket, but a judge ordered him to complete a traffic safety course.

The document prosecutors call a forgery is a certificate stating that Probst completed the course. It is headed “Traffic Safety Associates,” an organization created by Probst’s father, Midland resident Gary Probst.

The certificate bears the signature of a driving instructor named “John Wilson,” but state records show no one named John Wilson was licensed to teach driving anywhere in the state at the time.

“Probst sent a forged Traffic Safety Associates certificate in to the Clallam County District Court to basically get out of a ticket,” charging papers state.

Sean Probst told The News Tribune he took the safety course.

From John Wilson?

“That’s who signed the certificate,” Probst said Thursday.

The News Tribune unearthed the document from court files during a 2005 investigation of Gary Probst, owner of the state’s largest driving-school chain. Results of the investigation appeared in a series, “License to Shill.”

The series revealed that the name “John Wilson” appeared frequently in documents and records associated with Gary Probst’s driving schools.

“Wilson” signed insurance forms and multiple letters to state officials, using addresses associated with Gary Probst. Records show state attorneys believe John Wilson is fictitious.

The News Tribune found one retired driving instructor named John Wilson. He lives in Federal Way, and stopped teaching in 1999.

During a 2005 interview, Wilson said he did not know Sean or Gary Probst, and didn’t teach a traffic safety course in 2003.

The forgery charges add a layer to an already complex state investigation of the Probst driving-school empire that started last fall.

Gary Probst and several of his business partners face charges of falsifying license applications for 41 driving schools. The charges, filed in October, are still pending, and Probst is appealing them. The state hasn’t scheduled a hearing to address them yet.

“My guess would be that both sides might be looking at options that might involve not going to hearing, possibly settlements,” said Brad Benfield, spokesman for the Department of Licensing.

This week, the state Legislature approved a bill that stiffens regulations governing driving schools. The bill targets tactics Probst is suspected of using to circumvent state laws. It awaits the governor’s signature.

At the same time, Sean Probst is trying to start the Dynasty Driving schools, using classrooms leased by his father. The younger Probst says the new business isn’t connected to his father’s operations.

The DOL hasn’t approved the Dynasty Driving applications yet. Benfield said they are still under review. Legally, the driving schools can’t open, but that hasn’t stopped Sean Probst from advertising and promoting his business on the Internet and in at least one local public school.

Dynasty Driving fliers recently appeared at Washington High School in the Franklin Pierce School District. The fliers include contact information for the company, as well as a promotional blurb that describes the business as “Washington’s top driver training school.”

Dr. Frank Hewins, the district’s assistant superintendent, said the high school will no longer allow distribution of the fliers.

The Dynasty Driving Web site (www.dynastydriving.com) lists school locations in Longview, Redmond, Seattle, Snohomish and Woodinville, and offers online registration, with classes beginning in April.

A company business statement on the site boasts of Dynasty’s 15-year history in Washington. State records show the company was formed four months ago.

“With over 15 years of growth and expansion, we can proudly say that we have taught safe driving to nearly 40,000 students,” the business statement reads.

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486