Bus dispatcher to plead not guilty, wants jury trial
The Sky Express bus dispatcher facing four counts of involuntary manslaughter related to a fatal bus crash in Caroline County will plead not guilty to all charges.
Zhao Jian Chen, 41, was in Caroline Circuit Court Wednesday for an arraignment hearing. His attorney, Ted Bruns, requested a jury trial.
Judge Joseph Ellis scheduled a two-day trial to start on June 18 and informed Chen that he needed the addresses of any witnesses he may have so they could be subponaed.
“All the witnesses I have that I know of I know their name and cell phone numbers, but I don’t know where they live right now,” he told the judge through a Chinese interpreter.
“I will do all I can to cooperate with my attorney [to get that information.]”
Commonwealth Attorney Tony Spencer said he will ask for Chen to be held without bond. A date for a bond hearing has not been set yet.
The Greensboro, N.C. man is accused of ordering bus driver Kin Yiu Cheung, 37, to drive the Sky Express bus last May 31 from North Carolina to Ney York, even though Cheung told him he was too tired.
Although Chen was not driving, Spencer said earlier that the fact that Chen ordered Cheung to drive that day makes him “an accessory before the fact, which makes him just as liable as the driver.”
Due to overwhelming media attention and a request by the defense, Ellis put a gag order into effect to ensure Chen gets a fair trial.
“This gentleman is entitled to a fair trial and in order to make that happen I am ordering the attorneys and interpreters not to talk about it,” Judge Ellis told the reporters in the courtroom. “That starts this moment.”
Chen was indicted in September by a Caroline grand jury. The driver, Cheung, is also charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Both men face up to 40 years in prison.
Cheung has a May 2 court hearing scheduled. He told state police he was tired and dozed off before the wreck about 5 o’clock that morning on Interstate 95 in Caroline County, according to court documents.
When Cheung 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.
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.