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Bus driver given six years in prison

BY PORTSIA SMITH

The driver of the Sky Express bus that overturned and killed four passengers on Interstate 95 in Caroline County in May 2011 was sentenced Wednesday to six years in prison.

Kin Yiu Cheung, 38, of Elmhurst, N.Y., was given a sentence of 40 years in prison—10 years for each person killed—but Judge Joseph Ellis suspended all but six years.

“You have wiped from the face of this planet four good souls. You will continue to have a life, and they won’t,” Ellis said. “This does not necessarily make you a bad person. The overwhelming amount of people I see are good people who made a bad choice.”

Cheung had admitted earlier that he fell asleep while driving the Sky Express bus on a nearly nine-hour, low-fare bus ride from Raleigh, N.C., to New York City nearly two years ago. He lost control of the bus and it overturned, killing four passengers and injuring 52 others.

One of the passengers is now a quadriplegic.

Cheung was convicted in Caroline County Circuit Court in November of four counts of involuntary manslaughter. At the end of the nearly four-hour trial, Judge Ellis told Cheung he found his conduct “to be so gross and wanton” that he had to find him guilty of all four counts.

“I want to apologize to all the passengers that were injured due to my negligence and my most sincere regrets and apologies to the families and loved ones of the lives that were lost in my care,” Cheung, who speaks Cantonese, said in English before hearing his sentence. “I would give anything, even my life, to bring them back. Please, please accept my apology.”

Caroline Commonwealth’s Attorney Tony Spencer argued for Cheung to be sentenced beyond the higher end of the sentencing guidelines, which is 5 years and 11 months per charge.

“The public is going to pay attention to what happens here today and it is important that the message be sent to Mr. Cheung and other bus drivers that you can’t show a complete disregard for human life and not pay significant consequences,” Spencer said.

At his trial in November, Spencer argued that Cheung knew he was too tired to be behind the wheel and ignored the danger to his passengers.

Defense attorney Taylor B. Stone argued that Cheung wasn’t originally supposed to drive that long a route, but was assigned to take the trip because his employer told him to, despite the fact that he was tired.

“This is not a bad man. This is a man who made a very bad judgment. A man who made a mistake,” Stone said. “He was just trying to put food on the table.”

In sentencing Cheung, Judge Ellis said, “You will be haunted for the rest of your life, but so will everyone affected by this accident.

“This wasn’t an issue of chance. This was an issue of choice,” he said.

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.

The crash resulted in congressional hearings about bus safety, and the National Transportation Board conducted an investigation into the crash.

The NTSB investigation found that the North Carolina-based Sky Express failed to heed safety and training standards, the fatigued driver failed to react properly when he couldn’t stay awake, and that federal regulators failed to keep the rogue company, and others like it, from putting dangerous buses on the road.

Cheung will get credit for the six months he already served in Pamunkey Regional Jail.

Two passengers who were on the bus that day and two family members of the deceased attended the sentencing yesterday, but declined to comment.

Portsia Smith: 540/374-5419

psmith@fredericksburg.com

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