National News

Driver charged with manslaughter in Va. bus crash

Posted June 3, 2011

— A driver for a low-fare interstate bus service was charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter Friday following a brief court appearance on another charge stemming from this week's crash in Virginia that killed four passengers and injured dozens more.

Kin Yiu Cheung, 37, of Flushing, N.Y., had been free on bond, but he was arrested on the new charges shortly after appearing in Caroline County court Friday morning.

Cheung was in court to answer to a misdemeanor reckless driving charge stemming from the Tuesday crash on Interstate 95 about 30 miles north of Richmond.

The new charges are felonies, each carrying a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

"It's never easy to make determinations to bring serious charges, but there was enough evidence to bring the charge," Caroline County Commonwealth's Attorney Anthony Spencer said after Cheung's arrest.

Police say Cheung was fatigued when the Sky Express bus he was driving swerved off the highway shortly before 5 a.m., hit an embankment and overturned. It had departed Greensboro Monday night bound for New York City with 58 people, including the driver.

Cheung's lawyer, Murray Janus, called the wreck a "tragic accident," adding he had not had time to talk to Cheung after his latest arrest.

Court records show Cheung had previous traffic violations in Virginia dating back to 2003, including speeding, following too closely, and failing to obey a highway sign and failing to stop or yield entering a highway. It was not clear whether the violations were personal or while driving a commercial vehicle.

Authorities declined to comment on their continuing investigation.

Virginia State Police were an the scene of Tuesday's crash within minutes, arriving quick enough that the bus was still rocking and survivors of the crash were crawling out of the bus into oncoming traffic, Spencer said.

Riley Zecca, a 21-year-old junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was on the bus with a friend at the time.

"I was told the bus flipped about three times and then landed on the roof," he said Thursday. "But I don't recall that. I don't know if I blacked out. It just happened so quickly that I couldn't really process it."

"I just crawled out, and I had blood all over my face and neck and shirt," he added.

Ben Johnson, a 47-year-old upholsterer from New York City, was riding the bus back from North Carolina after visiting family. He said the bus swerved off the road and hit the rumble strips on the shoulder before the driver tried to get back on the road.

"They did something right. That's good," Johnson said of the charges against the driver. "All he had to do was really just pull over for 10 minutes. We were already late. A few minutes didn't matter, so that could have been between someone else's life, just those few minutes."

A spokeswoman for Sky Express did not immediately comment.

Transportation Department officials were in the process of shutting down the company at the time of the crash, but had given the Charlotte-based company an extra 10 days to appeal an unsatisfactory safety rating.

A timeline released by the department earlier this week indicated that without the extension, Sky Express would have stopped operations the weekend before the crash. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has directed the department to stop extending appeals periods for operators found to be unsafe.

Following the crash, federal officials shut down the bus line.

Sky Express is part of an industry of inexpensive buses that travel the East Coast offering cheap fares, convenient routes and, in some cases, free wireless Internet. The industry is in the fifth year of a boom, but a string of deadly accidents also has prompted calls for tougher federal regulation.

According to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records, Sky Express buses have been involved in four crashes with an injury or fatality — it didn't specify which — during the two-year period that ended May 20. The company also has been cited for 46 violations of drivers being fatigued over that same time, ranking it worse than 86 percent of similar companies in that category.

Virginia State Police have identified those killed in the crash as Karen Blyden-Decastro, 46, of Cambria Heights, N.Y.; Sie Giok Giang, 63, of Philadelphia; Josefa Torres, 78, of Jamaica, N.Y.; and Denny Estefany Martinez, 25, of Jersey City, N.J.

15 Comments

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  • Jeremiah Jun 3, 4:28 p.m.

    "I cannot believe you guys are jumping to put more blame on the management than on the actual person who knowing and recklessly failed to stop driving when he knew he was tired. That is ridiculous! If they did have a bunch of safety violations and failed to remedy them then yes they are in violation, but the DRIVER was DRIVING the bus."

    i would imagine it was the company who designates the hours, and i imagine it was the company would receive all kinds of complaints if the driver said "sorry folks, i'm too tired to drive, i need to pull over for an hour or two and take a nap".

    Just saying

  • williammjohnston Jun 3, 3:47 p.m.

    This is a matter of a company being irresponsible! The public at large should be protected by enforced rules against any public carrier, including safety of the vehicle, quality and alertness of the driver! Irrespective of the driver's need for income, if he had proper rest before the trip, etc. this would not have happened! If he was driving again without proper rest, it was his fault! The company would dare not fire a driver if it was their fault for expecting him to drive without rest. Therefore, it was his fault first and then the fault of management/supervision!

  • housemanagercary Jun 3, 3:32 p.m.

    Yes RB the company has to keep records but you're saying the CEO would have know the man was driving sleepy at that point in time or would have to have a reasonably suspicion that he was. Do we know that to be true? Are we talking about a company with 10 employees where they are that involved or a company with 500 where there are multiple levels of management?

  • housemanagercary Jun 3, 3:30 p.m.

    I cannot believe you guys are jumping to put more blame on the management than on the actual person who knowing and recklessly failed to stop driving when he knew he was tired. That is ridiculous! If they did have a bunch of safety violations and failed to remedy them then yes they are in violation, but the DRIVER was DRIVING the bus.

  • dpate2 Jun 3, 3:24 p.m.

    I FEEL SO BAD FOR EVERYONE THAT DIED BUT I ALSO FEEL BAD FOR THE DRIVER REALLY I MEAN THINK HE COULD NOT HAVE MEANT TO DO THIS I AGREE THAT THE COMPANY SHOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE IN THIS MATTER CUT THAT DRIVER A DEAL...

  • dcatz Jun 3, 2:55 p.m.

    It's the CEO's job to know what's happening. If the CEO didn't, they were negligent. I find it hard to believe that the CEO did not know that the company was about to be shut down for numerous safety violations.

    Frankly, I think manslaughter is a bit too much for the driver. The manslaughter charges should have been reserved for the people running the company.

    Yes, the driver shouldn't have gotten behind the wheel when fatigued and he should get in trouble for that. And people died. But at the same time, he's got to earn a living. And we don't know anything about his family situation; he could have an entire family to feed. And if he refuses to drive the bus, even knowing it's dangerous to do so, he looses his job. It's really a Hobson's choice.

    It's easy to sit and say he should have taken the moral high road and refused to drive the bus when you aren't the one who has to make a choice between being able to feed yourself and your family and doing what is right in principle.

  • RB aka Spirit Warrior Woman Jun 3, 2:33 p.m.

    impatientgirl - "As for the CEO, he could have had no clue what was happening."

    I believe they're required to keep records of how long certain trips take, etc. so all the CEO or any manager or HR person had to do was read those records.

  • RB aka Spirit Warrior Woman Jun 3, 2:32 p.m.

    Aren't charter bus drivers subject to the same DOT rules as over-the-road commercial truckers are?

  • NCSU2311 Jun 3, 2:18 p.m.

    Ah geez. The government put its nose in this PRIVATE company and others for SAFETY reasons? Where are all the anti-government "conservatives" defending this guy and company? How dare the government set restrictions on how long they can drive!! Its not a business with 1 employee doing the work of 3 like everywwhere else IS IT? Speak up sheep and defend the dergulation of bus transportation! Then we can move on to getting out of the airlines safety regulations. No gov! Speak up "conservatives"! Crickets....chirp chirp.

  • housemanagercary Jun 3, 2:08 p.m.

    The driver knew he was fatigued and should stop, HE is at fault. IF his managers were forcing him to over then they would be in violation of labor laws but not liable for the deaths. As for the CEO, he could have had no clue what was happening. Prove that he did know as the manager did, and then they'd be on the string for the labor violations too. If the guy had plenty of time between drives but was instead of sleeping say up partying, then its not the companies fault so much now is it? Unless they failed to monitor him. My point is, you can't immediately jump up and says let's blame the CEO! Let's blame his boss! Let's not blame the poor overworked driver! Reserve your judgment for the facts people. This is why I never want a jury by my "peers".

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