Authorities have filed charges against a Queens driver whose Chinatown-bound tour bus flipped over early Tuesday on Interstate 95 in Virginia, killing four women and injuring more than 50 other people.
Kin Yiu Cheung, 37, of Flushing, Queens is facing reckless driving charges and is being held in a Virginia jail on $3,000 bond.
Authorities say 58 passengers were onboard when the SkyExpress Inc-owned bus flipped onto its roof just before 5 a.m. on Interstate 95, about 30 miles north of Richmond. It had departed from Greensboro, N.C. at 10:30 p.m. Monday.
Besides the four deaths, the other 54 passengers were treated in 11 area hospitals for injuries ranging from minor to serious to life-threatening.
Cheung suffered minor injuries.
Virginia state police say driver fatigue may have contributed to the crash, and they ruled out mechanical errors or malfunctions as causes for the crash.
“The driver was apparently fatigued at the time when he ran off the right side of the road," said Virginia State Police Sergeant Thomas Molnar.
"Everybody was pretty much sleeping and then all of the sudden, you're flipping over and you're... you know, you just don't know what happened,” said passenger Makia George.
In response, federal authorities shut down SkyExpress' Chinatown office by Tuesday evening, leaving many bus ticket holders to find other ways to travel.
SkyExpress, which is run out of Charlotte, N.C., had 46 violations for driver fatigue since 2009, and three of them were serious, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
In a statement Tuesday, SkyExpress officials said this was their first serious accident involving any of their buses and that Cheung "has never before been involved in an accident."
SkyExpress also offered condolences to the families of the four killed passengers.
The National Transportation Safety Board has not yet reached any conclusions about the crash. The board will investigate the incident over the next seven to 10 days, to determine how to prevent similar bus accidents, and assist affected passengers' families.
"We'll be looking at operations of the bus company and that may mean we'll go to where bus company is located," said NTSB official Earl Weener at a Tuesday press conference. "Human performance, so that looks at whether there are any issues with the driver, any systemic issues that set the driver up for the situation he was in."
Lower Manhattan officials held a conference Tuesday, where they insisted that commercial buses need permits and should have their trips tracked by officials, so that minor violations do not become deadly problems.
"How many more people have to die before our government, our state and federal government, pass laws to regulate this industry?" said Manhattan Councilwoman Margaret Chin. "This industry is an economic vitality for our community. People use these buses because they're cheap and they're convenient. And we want to have these buses in our community, but they have to be safe and they have to be regulated."
"It would be easier for the city [Department Of Transportation], before tragedy happens, when daily problems start becoming chronic problems, to identify which players are creating those problems because they would have the record of the application. They would have the permits on file," said Manhattan-Brooklyn Senator Daniel Squadron.
The accident comes less than three months after a driver allegedly fell asleep in the Bronx and crashed a bus operated by Worldwide Tours in Chinatown, killing 15 people.
The Bronx accident sparked multiple lawsuits and prompted state and federal authorities to begin to crack down on discount tour bus operators.