The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
BUS DISPATCHER CHARGED IN CRASH
BY PORTSIA SMITH
A second man is facing involuntary-manslaughter charges in connection with a May 31 bus crash in Caroline County that killed four female passengers.
Sky Express bus dispatcher Zhao Jian Chen, 40, of Greensboro, N.C., is charged with four counts. He was arrested without incident by Virginia State Police and federal agents about 8 a.m. Friday in Greensboro.
The bus driver, 37-year-old Kin Yiu Cheung, is also chargedwith four counts of involuntary manslaughter. He is scheduled to appear in Caroline Circuit Court on March 7.
According to Caroline Commonwealth’s Attorney Tony Spencer, Cheung told Chen he was too tired to drive that day, but Chen ordered him to drive anyway.
“From the very beginning of our investigation into the Sky Express bus crash on May 31, 2011, it has been our position that the person who ordered Kin Yiu Cheung to drive that bus was as responsible for the four deaths in that crash, if not more responsible, than the driver,” Spencer said.
Cheung, who speaks Mandarin Chinese and limited English, told state police he was tired and fell asleep early May 31, behind the wheel of Sky Express bus No. 386 on Interstate 95 in Caroline County, according to court documents.
He woke up and made a hard left turn, documents state. 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 caused the bus to flip. 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.
Spencer said the investigation revealed that it was a standard practice at Sky Express to put drivers who are too tired to drive behind the wheel of buses loaded with passengers.
“The dispatcher who ordered these drivers to drive without regard to how tired they were was putting passengers in danger every time those buses took the road,” Spencer said. “If the crash in Caroline County had not happened, it was just a matter of time until a bus crash of this nature was going to happen somewhere else.”
Spencer said his office had been working diligently with the state police and federal authorities in trying to identify the dispatcher.
“For a long time, the only information we had about the dispatcher’s identity was that his last name was Chen, which is a very common Chinese name,” Spencer said.
On Sept. 7, a Caroline grand jury returned four sealed indictments charging four counts of involuntary manslaughter against “Mr. Chen, a dispatcher employed by the Sky Express bus company on May 30, 2011.”
It wasn’t until recently, Spencer said, that investigators obtained further identifying information.
Chen is being held at the Guilford County Jail in North Carolina on a secured $500,000 bond pending extradition. If he refuses extradition, a hearing will be held on Feb. 23, according to Gellar.
The crash, one of a string of discount-bus accidents last 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.
While Sky Express had a poor record, Cheung’s driving record wasn’t spotless.
A public records search shows Cheung has had nine traffic violations in Virginia over the past eight years.
Court records show 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.
A state-police affidavit said Cheung’s log book was two days out of date on the day of the crash. When given a chance by a trooper at the scene to update it, Cheung wrote that he got off work at 5:45 a.m. the previous day 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’s ride by car.
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. the next morning. It wasn’t clear how many stops Cheung made between the two cities, or where.
Cheung, according to public records, lived on the 11000 block of Sunburst Lane in Spotsylvania County from 2005 to 2008.
Portsia Smith: 540/374-5419