The Falcon | Volume 83, Issue 53
Published 5/29/13 | Log In
Photo credit: Courtesy of TIM TRAINOR/East Oregonian.
Bus company, driver blamed after deadly Oregon accident
By KHARIS LUND, Staff Reporter
Published: January 16, 2013
Survivors’ family members filed a lawsuit earlier this month after a December bus crash killed nine people in Oregon, including Seattle Pacific University student Richard Sohn.
According to an article in The Globe and Mail, the lawsuit was filed against Mi Joo Tour and Travel Ltd., a Korean tour company located in Coquitlam, B.C., by the guardian of two students, Jong-Hyun Chae and Seong-June An, who were survivors of the crash. It claimed that the driver of the 1998 Prevost Motorcoach ignored warning signs indicating hazardous road conditions and failed to slow down while descending a dangerous highway covered in snow, fog and black ice.
The lawsuit also alleged that the driver of the bus, 54-year-old Haeng Kyu Hwang, had spent 92 hours driving the tour bus during the eight-day touring trip — 22 hours more than the legal 70-hour maximum. In addition to the lawsuit, Mi Joo Tour and Travel Ltd. is being investigated for a series of failures to take basic measurements of safety.
The U.S Department of Transportation (DOT) stated that the tour company failed to test its drivers for alcohol or drugs prior to the accident.
On Jan. 8, the DOT and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) also revoked the tour company’s right to any commercial motor vehicle operations in the United States.
The 10-page official FMSCA document, “Imminent Hazard Operations Out-Of-Service Order,” addressed to tour company owner Edward Kang, stated, “The Secretary and the FMCSA find your operations and the continued operations of your commercial motor vehicles in the United States constitute an imminent hazard.”
The FMSCA reported the basis of the out-of-service order was the company’s failure to take basic safety precautions. “… Mi Joo Tour & Travel wholly fails to take basic measures to ensure that its drivers are properly rested for safe vehicle operations. Mi Joo Tour & Travel fails to monitor and ensure that its drivers comply with drivers’ hours of service requirements, drivers’ records of duty status (RODS) requirements, and recordkeeping retention requirements, thereby posing a continuing imminent hazard.”
The FMSCA report also cited that the tour company had been subject to at least two compliance reviews prior to the crash, in 2010 and 2011. In both these reviews, multiple safety violations were discovered and civil penalties assessed.
In the 2010 review, there was one “acute” violation, which led the FMSCA to place the company on “conditional” status and fine them $2,000. In 2011, after failing to meet certain U.S. drug and alcohol testing requirements, the firm was again subsequently fined and required to submit a corrective action plan to FMCSA officials. Their operating authority was also suspended for two months until the tour company paid the fine.
On Jan. 11 the company’s operations in Canada were also suspended, following a safety audit by the B.C. Ministry of Transportation, according to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure report.
Although Mi Joo Tour and Travel Ltd. declined to comment directly, their attorney Mark Scheer did speak at a press conference in Seattle on Jan. 9.
In a copy of the press release, Scheer said, “With respect to the accident of December 30, 2012, it is believed that black ice was a significant factor in the cause of the accident. It appears that the area in question, unfortunately, has a history of traffic incidents and there were other accidents in that area involving black ice on December 30, 2012.”
Scheer went on to say that the driver of the bus, Hwang, was properly licensed with no history of prior bus passenger accidents or alcohol and tobacco use. Hwang was also in good health with more than seven hours of sleep, Scheer said.
A trial date in connection with the lawsuit has been set for Jan. 6, 2014, and a spokesman for the Oregon Police said they will be prepared to report to prosecutors in a few weeks.