Free Lance-Star reporter Robyn Sidersky covers Caroline County government and schools. You can reach her at 540/374-5413 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow coverage on Facebook or Twitter as well.
Judge finds bus driver guilty
UPDATE: (1:59 p.m.) A judge found Cheung guilty of all charges. He is being held until his sentencing hearing on Jan 23.
Bus passenger Karrica Finch expressed relief at the verdict. “I feel that it’s what was deserved,” Finch said.
UPDATE: (1:05 p.m.) Both attorneys stipulated that no alcohol or drugs were in Cheung’s system at the time of the crash.
Trooper Roseman, who enforces state and federal motor carrier laws, said Cheung’s log had not been updated since 2:30 the previous day, but was within regulations.
Several of the passengers of the bus testified that Cheung started driving eratically around Petersburg, about an hour before the crash, switching in out of lanes, swerving, speeding up and slowing down.
Passenger Shirley Dai was sitting in the front row, closest to the driver. She is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. She testified she heard Cheung talking in Chinese on his cell phone. She said he was complaining that he didn’t get enough rest.
She testified that she was asleep just before the crash, but was awakened by the rumble strips then heard people screaming.
“I closed my eyes as the bus was turning, and when I opened my eyes I was outside of the bus,” she said.
Ramona Gadsden, another passenger, testified that at one point, Cheung stopped but would not allow anyone off the bus. She and another female passenger got off anyway to use the restroom.
Cheung started to leave before the two women returned to the bus, and other passengers yelled at him that he was leaving passengers behind.
“Who told you to get off the bus? I didn’t tell you to get off,” she testified the driver told her.
“I told him I was a grown woman and I didn’t need permission to use the restroom,” she said.
She said he told passengers the next stop would not be until they reached Maryland, about 3 hours away.
Karrica Finch was a passenger in a 5th-row window seat. During a stop in Durham to pick up more passengers, she testified Cheung got off the bus and had a conversation with another Asian man. She said the man gave Chueng a bag containing energy drinks.
She said the bus stopped somewhere after South Hill. She said she’s taken that trip about 9 times, and to stop there was unusual.
She said after that stop, Cheung’s driving became extremely sloppy. “It was almost like you were on a roller coaster ride and you’re in the middle of it.”
She said she was leaning against the window, sending an e-mail to her employer when she heard the rumble strips. The driver was leaning to the side, and she heard someone say “He’s dead, we’re gonna die!”
She then saw Cheung jump up, then the bus leaned to the left, then the right. She hit her head and lost consciousness. When she woke up, it was dark and she had to feel her way out of the bus.
Lidenne Cromartie testified that after the crash, she went back into the bus to help other passengers. She testified that she saw Cheung, who said “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I fell asleep.”
UPDATE: (11:19 a.m.): Bus passenger Andrew Jennings testified this morning that the bus was speeding and swerving in and out of lanes.
“It was like a nightmare. I remember it like it was yesterday. I went to sleep about 15 minutes before the crash. I woke up to people screaming and the bus flipping. It was completely dark. It was chaos.”
UPDATE: As of about 10 a.m., 19 witnesses had been sworn to testify. A truck driver told the court that he saw the bus swerving and the bus driver tapping the breaks in the center lane beginning at milemarker 101. The truck driver said he thought it was weird that he was passing the bus, because his truck can only go up to 53 mph. The truck driver said he called 911 to report the bus to authorities before it flipped.
A state trooper testified that she arrived apparently just after the bus crashed, because the bus was still rocking back and forth. She immediately called for additional emergency vehicles. The trooper testified that the bus driver told her he was tired.
The bench trial for the Sky Express bus driver charged in a crash that killed four passengers last year is scheduled to begin Thursday morning.
Kin Yiu Cheung, 38, of Elmhurst, N.Y. , will appear before a judge Thursday in Caroline Circuit Court to face four counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Last week, the same charges were dismissed against Sky Express bus dispatcher Zhao Jian Chen, 41, of Greensboro, N.C., at the request of Caroline Commonwealth’s Attorney Tony Spencer.
Due to a court order, Spencer is unable to discuss the case. But last week defense attorney Ted Bruns called the accusations Cheung made against his client “hogwash.”
Bruns said the prosecution’s case against Chen was based on Cheung’s claim that Chen told him that he could lose his job if he didn’t drive the Sky Express bus on May 31, 2011, from North Carolina to New York, even though Cheung allegedly told him he was too tired.
Cheung fell asleep and the bus overturned on Interstate 95 near the Carmel Church exit shortly before 5 a.m.
“We provided Mr. Spencer with some evidence that called into question the truthfulness of what Mr. Cheung had claimed,” he said without going into specifics. “It will be pretty clear when [Cheung] is tried.”
Bruns said Chen spent three months in jail based on a lie that Cheung told.
“Crashing the bus is one thing, but throwing Mr. Chen under the bus is another,” Bruns said. “Sometimes the cover-up is worse than the crime,” he added.
Chen was subpoenaed last Tuesday by the Virginia State Police to testify in Cheung’s trial.
On the morning of the crash, Cheung admitted to police that he fell asleep while driving Sky Express bus No. 386 north on I-95. The bus ran off the right side of the highway, hit an embankment and overturned, landing on its roof.
Of the 58 passengers aboard the bus, 53 were taken to 11 different 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. (Update: Authorities changed one of the victim’s names to “unidentified female” in the latest indictments. The bus driver pleaded not guilty again.)
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.
The trial, which will include Mandarin Chinese translators, is expected to last a majority of the day.
If found guilty of all four counts of involuntary manslaughter, Cheung could face up to 40 years in prison.
Cheung is no stranger to the area.
According to public records, he lived on the 11000 block of Sunburst Lane in Spotsylvania County from 2005 to 2008.