State News

Charlotte bus company had history of violations

Posted May 31, 2011
Updated June 1, 2011

— The company that operates the bus that overturned on a Virginia highway, killing four and injuring several others early Tuesday, has been involved in several accidents over the last two years. It also has been cited for 46 violations for drivers being fatigued, which police believe contributed to this crash.

The Sky Express bus departed Greensboro, N.C., on Monday night and was headed to Chinatown in New York City with 58 people aboard, including the driver, said state police Sgt. Thomas Molnar.

The bus had swerved off Interstate 95, hit an embankment and flipped over about 30 miles north of Richmond. The driver, Kin Yiu Cheung, suffered minor injuries and was treated at the scene. 

Cheung, 37, of Flushing, N.Y., was charged Tuesday with reckless driving. He was released under a $3,000 bond.

Approximately 20 of the 53 passengers injured in the crash remained hospitalized for treatment of serious injuries, officials said Wednesday. 

The four passengers killed were Karen Blyden-Decastro, 46, of Cambria Heights, N.Y., Sie Giok Giang, 63, of Philadelphia, Penn., Josefa Torres, 78, of Jamaica, N.Y., and Denny Estefany Martinez, 25, of Jersey City, N.J.

Driver fatigue is being cited as part of the reason for the crash, but police were still investigating, Molnar said.

According to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records, Charlotte, N.C.-based Sky Express Inc. buses have been involved in four crashes, with one injury or fatality during the two-year period that ended May 20.

Its drivers have been cited for 17 unsafe-driving violations, including eight speeding violations, since 2009. Three of the 46 violations for fatigued driving were classified as serious.

Sky Express also was cited for 120 vehicle-maintenance violations, including one classified as serious. The National Transportation Board was investigating Tuesday's crash. The bus had no passenger seat belts, only for the driver.

David Wong, a manager in the Sky Express office in Charlotte, declined to comment. A telephone message left Tuesday for his attorney, Ruth Yang, wasn't immediately returned.

The records show the company uses 31 motor coaches and 53 drivers, as of May 20. It last underwent a compliance review on April 7.

Sky Express offers $30 bus trips between New York and 15 cities in North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. It also goes to Washington, D.C.

Tuesday's deaths come about two and a half months after a horrific New York City accident that focused attention on bus safety. On March 12, a speeding bus returning to Chinatown from a Connecticut casino toppled off an elevated highway and hit a utility pole, peeling off the roof. Fifteen passengers were killed and 18 injured.

The fleets of inexpensive buses plying the highways of the Northeast offer cheap fares, convenient routes and in some cases free wireless Internet. Customers are picked up daily from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. Fares are cheap — $10 to $15 for a ride from Boston to New York, compared with $70 or more on Amtrak.

The industry is in the fifth year of a solid boom, thanks to a new breed of bus service that eschews terminals and thrives on low prices. But a string of fatal crashes over six months also has prompted calls for tougher regulation.

Federal authorities say nearly 2,800 spot safety checks of passenger buses across the country from March 28 through April 6 resulted in about 10 percent of the vehicles or drivers being taken off the road.

A series of proposals announced in May by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood would make it easier for the government to take away bus drivers' commercial licenses if they violate drug and alcohol laws while operating a vehicle other than a bus or if they fail to pay fines.

Passenger Frances Lippette, 69, a retired New York schoolteacher who lives in Raleigh, uses Sky Express about every six weeks to visit her daughter in New York.

She went to the ticket office pick up her seat assignment for a bus that's scheduled to depart Tuesday night.

"Normally, somebody would be here to get your seat assignment," she said.

Instead, the glass booth was dark.

She pays less than half the price of a name-brand bus company for the 8-hour ride. It costs $30 each way.

Lippette said Sky Express was "no worse than Greyhound."

She has noticed drivers speaking in Chinese using a headset. But "I've never seen a driver not alert," she said.

Around the corner from where a Sky Express bus arrived in New York is an office for various bus companies. A sign in the window listed Sky Express schedules and prices. However, a woman at the desk said Sky Express was no longer located there. She handed over a card with phone numbers on it. None of the numbers worked or the mailbox was full.

13 Comments

This story is closed for comments. Comments on WRAL.com news stories are accepted and moderated between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Oldest First
View all
  • JustOneGodLessThanU Jun 2, 9:57 a.m.

    @whatusay, your comment baffles me. You seem to be saying that since "everyone is a severe violator of safety laws and rules" that the government shouldn't enforce any rules and the news media shouldn't report them?

    Doesn't the fact that so many companies are violators mean that much more action needs to take place to bring these businesses up to snuff? Or, we could just drop ALL safety requirements (like some people advocate) and just leave everyone with caveat emptor.

  • whatusay Jun 1, 7:42 p.m.

    Name one transportation company that does not have a history of violations!!!!! This is only helping trail lawyers. Ridiculous reporting.

  • nanasix Jun 1, 5:16 p.m.

    Let's get the government to run the owner's, drivers, and all other Chinese employees and see if they're here legally. Fortuanately the corporate filings are current in NC SOS records for a change. DMV controls the license for the drivers, for those that had questions about it. I thought drivers were required to keep a log of their hours, does anyone know anything about this? My prayers go out to the deceased and their families, as well as the injured, and pray they will be ok with no serious injuries.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Jun 1, 5:11 p.m.

    Government needs to just leave private companies alone.

    If a company maims & kills people, folks will eventually steer clear on their own and the company will fail. (and probably just open up under another name)

    Business can self-regulating and don't need Big Gubmint inspecting buses, weighing trucks, measuring pollution output and requiring drivers to be qualified. Leave private companies to do whatever they want to make the most money for themselves!

    (sarcasm)

  • oleguy Jun 1, 4:45 p.m.

    How do you determine Noticeably tired. I have been somewhat tired, kinda tired, after driving 11.5 hours after working all day,,, How do you know when someone else is tired,,

  • OGE Jun 1, 4:29 p.m.

    Some of my coworkers rave about how awesome and cheap this bus service is...um kay

  • wildcat Jun 1, 3:55 p.m.

    They made the ridge decision in arresting the driver. He also should be charged in the deaths.

  • timmytim Jun 1, 3:49 p.m.

    "Why was this guy driving while noticeably tired"?

    Because they charge $30 a seat. You get what you pay for.

    By the time you take out the costs for fuel, insurance, overhead, depreciation expense on the bus itself, and anything else how much do you think is left to pay a driver???

  • WASP Jun 1, 3:47 p.m.

    Is there an age limit for these bus drivers? I am not pointing fingers at the elderly, but I have seen a lot of these tour buses being driven by very elderly people. That may have something to do with the fatique factor.

  • LKG-Lover Jun 1, 3:38 p.m.

    All good points. . .wish our government would take stronger action than writting citations to protect peoples lives.

More...