By PORTSIA SMITH
A reckless driving charge against a Sky Express bus driver involved in a fatal crash that left four women dead was dropped this morning.
Kin Yiu Cheung did not appear in Caroline County General District Court today, but Commonwealth’s Attorney Tony Spencer and Defense Attorney Murray Janus agreed to nolle prosse the charge.
However, the 37-year-old driver from New York is still charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter. A full-day bench trial on those charges is scheduled for Jan. 26.
Cheung, who speaks Mandarin Chinese and “not too good” English, told state police that he was tired and dozed off and then fell asleep on the morning of May 31 when Sky Express bus No. 386 overturned on Interstate 95 in Caroline County, according to court documents.
When he woke up, the court document said, he turned the bus hard to the left. The bus ran off the right side of the highway near the Carmel Church exit, hit an embankment and overturned, landing on its roof.
State police spokeswoman Corrine Geller said fatigue was a factor in the crash and speed is what made the bus flip over. The speed limit in the crash area is 70 miles per hour.
Of the 58 passengers aboard the bus, 53 were taken to 11 hospitals across the state.
Killed in the crash were 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.
An affidavit filed by state police included statements from several passengers on the bus.
A front-seat passenger, Shirley Dai, said she overheard the driver talking on a cellphone and telling someone that he was tired and that he did not have much turn-around time between trips.
Another passenger, Ronald Harris, a former bus driver, said that as soon as he got on the bus he knew something was wrong. He said the driver made several stops but would not let passengers off to use the restroom, even though the restroom on the bus was broken. He said the driver was upset and quick to get angry at passengers.
Two other passengers, Wanda Smith and Jillian Quigley, stated that the driver drank several Red Bulls and cups of coffee before the crash.
The affidavit said Cheung’s driver log book was two days out of date.
When given a chance to update it by a trooper, Cheung wrote that he got off work at 5:45 a.m. Monday and slept until 6 p.m. He said he slept while riding in a private vehicle from Durham, N.C., to Greensboro, N.C., which is about an hour ride by car, according to mapquest.com.
He reported to work at 10 that night. The bus left Greensboro about 10:30 p.m., and the crash occurred shortly before 5 a.m. Tuesday. It wasn’t clear how many stops Cheung made between the two cities, or where.
According to a public records search, Cheung has had nine traffic violations in Virginia over the past eight years.
Court records show that the he had four speeding violations, two seat-belt violations and violations for following too closely, failure to obey highway signs and failure to stop or yield entering the highway. All of those violations occurred in either Arlington, Alexandria or Fairfax, where he lived as recently as 2009.
Of the speeding violations, two were 18 mph above the posted speed limit and two were 17 mph above the posted speed limit.
Cheung also, according to public records, lived on the 11000 block of Sunburst Lane in Spotsylvania County from 2005 to 2008.
The crash, one of a string of discount bus accidents this year, set off a firestorm of media coverage and federal regulatory reaction to an industry seemingly rife with companies that skirt the rules. Sky Express already had a poor safety record and was shut down after the Caroline County crash. Days after that, the company was cited by federal authorities for trying to “reincarnate” under a different name.