Sky Express dispatcher appears in court
The Sky Express bus dispatcher facing charges related to a bus crash that killed four passengers had his first court appearance today.
Zhao Jian Chen, 41, of Greensboro, N.C. had a review hearing in Caroline County Circuit Court Wednesday. He is facing four counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Through an interpreter speaking Mandarin Chinese, Judge Joseph Ellis was able to explain to Chen what his rights are, what he is charged with and the court process.
Chen told the judge he didn’t understand why he was there.
“I understand that this was an accident,” Chen said, according to interpreter Wendy Bokal. “I’m not even sure what is going on. I don’t know of anything. I was just doing my work.”
Ellis advised Chen not to speak of the case without a lawyer present.
Caroline Commonwealth’s Attorney Tony Spencer told the judge that he had been contacted by Richmond attorney Ted Bruns, who told him that he was in the process of being retained to represent Chen.
An arraignment and bond hearing for Chen were both scheduled for March 21. If Bruns is not retained by that day, then that would revert to a status hearing.
According to Spencer, Chen is accused of ordering bus driver Kin Yiu Cheung to drive the Sky Express bus last May 31, even though Cheung told him he was too tired.
Cheung, who speaks Mandarin Chinese and limited English, told state police that he was tired and dozed off and then fell asleep before the wreck around 5 that morning on Interstate 95 in Caroline County, according to court documents.
When the driver woke up, the court documents 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.
Although Chen was not driving, Spencer said because Chen ordered Cheung to drive that day, it makes him “an accessory before the fact, which makes him just as liable as the driver.”
State police spokeswoman Corrine Geller said fatigue was a factor in the crash and speed is what made the bus flip. The speed limit in the crash area is 70 mph.
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.
Chen was indicted in September by a Caroline grand jury.
Cheung is also charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter and has a May 2 court hearing scheduled.
Both men face up to 40 years in prison.
Spencer said the investigation revealed that it was a standard practice at Sky Express to put drivers who were too tired to drive behind the wheel of buses loaded with passengers.
According to federal court documents, Cheung has ties to a Brooklyn couple who are accused of running an operation that helped unqualified bus and truck drivers get licenses.
It is unclear whether Cheung received his commercial driver’s licenses fraudulently, but he did receive his license shortly after passing a road test with a vehicle registered to N&Y Professional Service Line, which recently had its business license suspended while it is being investigated for fraud for helping drivers cheat on the written test.