B.C. tour bus operator banned in U.S. after fatal crash

The Canadian Press


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VANCOUVER — The U.S. Department of Transportation has ordered a Coquitlam tour bus company involved in a fatal crash to get off American roads because of its “continuing and flagrant” safety failures and violations.

The order for Mi Joo Tour and Travel Ltd. to cease operations was issued Tuesday as the transport agency revealed the driver of the bus had been on the road “well beyond” the 70-hour maximum limit.

The fully-packed vehicle careened off an Oregon highway, plunging down a snowy embankment, killing nine people just before the new year.

The decision came as Oregon State Police identified 19-year-old Richard Sohn of Bellevue, Washington, as the last of the victims killed alongside 39 others who were injured when the massive vehicle smashed through a barrier and flipped end-over-end.

A 55-year-old man from Maple Ridge, Seokmin Moon, was the only Canadian killed, while most of the other victims were from Washington state and Korea.

The company and its president, Edward Kang, were issued the “imminent hazard” order, which also outlines safety violations discovered in the past.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration found the company failed to take basic measures to ensure its drivers are properly rested for safe vehicle operations. “[It] has established a pattern and practice of scheduling and dispatching drivers on trips without regard to hours of service requirements,” the agency said.

Further, the investigation found the company did not have safety management practices for monitoring and controlling its drivers.

The 11-page order states driver Haeng Hwang had been on the road 92 hours over the eight-day trip when he was involved in the crash just after 10 a.m. Dec.  30, off Interstate 84 east of Pendleton, Ore.

It goes on to describe previous compliance reviews in which “multiple safety violations” were discovered and civil penalties were assessed.

Among the “systemic safety failures” was continued non-compliance with drug and alcohol testing requirements, which included not conducting such a test on the driver after the recent tragedy.

The company had been fined in the two previous years for failing to meet the testing requirements, and was suspended for two months in 2011 when it did not initially pay up.

The investigation also said the company was found to have failed to properly maintain driver qualification requirements, failed to operate the buses in a safe manner, failed to properly keep maintenance records and failed to require drivers to prepare vehicle inspection reports.

Drivers were not required to submit records of duty status, or to maintain driver logs and supporting documentation, the order states.

“Mi Joo Tour & Travel’s callous neglect of its responsibilities results in drivers transporting passengers at a time when they may be fatigued because of driving in excess of the maximum driving time,” it states.

The order sets out a list of specific steps it must take to demonstrate compliance before it is permitted to operate again, including fixing the slew of issues cited. It says the company could be fined up to $25,000 if the order is violated, or a prison term up to one year could be imposed.

The company’s lawyer did not immediately return a call for comment.

On Monday, two Korean exchange students who survived the crash filed a civil lawsuit in a Tacoma, Washington, court.

The action against the tour company claimed the bus driver was tired, speeding and ignored warnings of poor road conditions.

The 54-year-old Surrey, driver, who was also injured, was not named.

Police have estimated it could be weeks before results of the investigation are handed to prosecutors, who will examine the possibility of charges.

It’s unclear if the company will still be allowed to operate in British Columbia.

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