Bond denied for driver in fatal Va. bus crash

June 15, 2011 - 3:44 PM

BOWLING GREEN, Va. (AP) — A bus driver charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter after he fell asleep behind the wheel on a Virginia highway was ordered held without bond Wednesday.

Caroline County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Ellis said while defendants facing involuntary manslaughter charges aren't normally held without bond, he was uncomfortable releasing 37-year-old Kin Yiu Cheung of New York City because of discrepancies in his home address.

Cheung's attorney Murray Janus said his client, a driver for a discount bus service, dozed off at the wheel May 31 while driving on Interstate 95 about 30 miles north of Richmond. The bus was headed for New York. Four of the 60 people on board died and others were injured when the bus hit an embankment and overturned.

After the hearing, Cheung's wife, Qun Lin, called the accident horrible and said she and her husband were deeply sorry for the lives that were lost.

"I'd rather that my husband died or hurt instead of other passengers," she said through an interpreter.

Wednesday's hearing started last week but was continued to give his lawyers time to determine if Cheung had another passport he could use to leave the country. Prosecutors have argued that Cheung, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Hong Kong is a serious flight risk because of discrepancies in his address and the issues over his passport.

Janus said Cheung had just one passport and wasn't going anywhere if released on bond. He called the wreck a tragic accident and said Cheung dozed off, confirming the account his client gave police. Cheung has been charged with one count of misdemeanor reckless driving in addition to the manslaughter counts.

U.S. Transportation Department officials were in the process of shutting down the company he worked for, Charlotte N.C.-based Sky Express, at the time of the crash, but had given it an extra 10 days to appeal an unsatisfactory safety rating.

A timeline released by the department indicated that without the extension, Sky Express would have stopped operations the weekend before the crash. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has since directed the department to stop extending appeals periods for operators found to be unsafe.

Following the crash, federal officials shut down the bus line and then issued a cease-and-desist order against the company after finding it was trying to sell tickets under different names.

Sky Express is part of an industry of inexpensive buses that travel the East Coast offering cheap fares, convenient routes and, in some cases, free wireless Internet. The industry is in the fifth year of a boom, but a string of deadly accidents also has prompted calls for tougher federal regulation.

According to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records, Sky Express buses have been involved in four crashes with an injury or fatality — it didn't specify which — during the two-year period that ended May 20. The company also has been cited for 46 violations of drivers being fatigued over that same time, ranking it worse than 86 percent of commercial motor carriers.

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.

Cheung is scheduled to be arraigned on July 6, the same day a grand jury is set to hear the felony charges.