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Deadly bus crash in Virginia (VA) caused by fatigue, authorities say

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Four people were killed and 54 people injured when a bus operated by Sky Express Inc. of Charlotte, North Carolina (NC), crashed Tuesday, May 31, on Interstate 95 about 30 miles north of Richmond, Virginia (VA).

The wreck happened just before 5 a.m. The driver, Kin Yiu Cheung, age 37, was charged with reckless driving.

According to Va. State Police Sgt. Thomas J. Molnar, the wreck was caused by driver fatigue.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration shut down the bus company later Tuesday, citing multiple violations of federal safety regulations.

Driver fatigue and drowsy driving are a common threat on our roadways. Studies show that accidents caused by drowsy driving tend to show common characteristics.

This crash certainly fits the profile.

I’ve noted several common factors before in other sleep-related accidents. These wrecks are more likely:

  • to involve a single vehicle running off the roadway
  • to occur on higher-speed roadways
  • to result in serious injuries
  • to involve a young, male driver
  • to involve a driver who is alone

Even the factor of driving alone applies, sort of. A bus driver is not usually engaged in interaction with passengers, as the driver of a personal vehicle would be.

In this accident, Bus 386 of the Sky Express fleet veered off of the highway, hit an embankment, and flipped over onto its roof.

More than a hundred rescue workers from nine agencies responded to the crash site. The 53 injured passengers were transported to 10 different hospitals. Their injuries ranged from minor to critical.

The driver was treated at the scene for minor injuries. He was the only person on the bus with a seatbelt.

The bus trip originated in Charlotte. It was traveling overnight from Greensboro, North Carolina, state police said, and had made a stop in Raleigh en route to New York City.

The Sky Express company has had trouble with federal safety regulators in the past. Its buses were involved in four crashes during a two-year assessment period that ended this May, according to FMCSA records.

One of those crashes involved injuries, when the bus rear-ended a car on I-95 in Virginia last October and injured two people in the car. The driver, Wen An Wu, 47, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was charged with reckless driving and following too close.

During its assessment period, Sky Express ranked worse than 99.7 percent of all bus companies in “Driver Fitness.” It received 24 driver-fitness violations.

Sky Express also received 46 violations in the “Driver Fatigue” category. Most were for failing to keep logbooks properly.

The company received 17 “Unsafe Driving” violations, most of them for speeding.

The National Transportation Safety Board has launched an investigation into the crash. A New York City Council member on Tuesday blamed the U.S. Department of Transportation for being "asleep at the switch" on bus safety, and the vice president of the Advocates for Highway Safety said legislation has been stalled in Congress that would make the industry safer.

This company’s poor performance in its safety evaluation and its high number of violations indicate a pattern of negligence that may be widespread. This particular type of bus service, emphasizing very low fares and convenient routes, has been booming.

A ticket to ride on Sky Express Bus 386 from Charlotte to New York cost $30.

Tragically, this trip cost passengers a lot more.

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    News report just now on New 14 Carolina TV said that authorities were considering shutting down Sky Express on Saturday, but gave them an extension. Updates as I learn more. This is sounding like such a needless tragedy.