The driver of a Canadian travel company bus that crashed in Oregon last month, killing nine passengers, had slept for more than seven hours the night before the accident, a company attorney said Wednesday.
A pair of Tacoma-based exchange students from South Korea who were on the bus sued the company Sunday, alleging the driver was fatigued and drove too fast for the road conditions.
Attorney Mark Scheer’s comments also come a day after the U.S. Department of Transportation revoked Vancouver, B.C.-based Mi Joo Tour & Travel’s authority to provide passenger service in the United States after determining a driver was not properly rested when his bus crashed.
A Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration investigation found that driver Haeng Kyu Hwang had been on duty for 92 hours in the eight-day stretch before the crash, exceeding the 70-hour federal limit.
Scheer didn’t address the federal report Wednesday other than to say the company had “concerns about the accuracy” of it. The attorney added that black ice was a “significant” factor in the bus losing control on an Oregon highway and bursting through a railing.
Thirty-eight people were injured.
The Pierce County lawsuit seeks damages on behalf of cousins Chae Jong-hyun, 16, and An Seong-jun, 15, who are staying with a family friend in the Browns Point area while studying at local high schools. Because they are minors, the friend is serving as a guardian ad litem in the case. A trial is set for January 2014.
The driver was seriously injured but has been cooperating with investigators, Scheer said. The driver is back in Vancouver.
“Mr. Hwang is a licensed driver. Mr. Hwang had previously worked as a school bus driver and truck driver with no accidents,” Scheer said. “He was in good health and he doesn’t use alcohol or tobacco.”
Scheer said Mi Joo Tour & Travel has no history of passenger injuries and continues to cooperate with authorities, and that it has set up a help line for passengers and their family members, including interpretation help.
The Oregon State Police and National Transportation Safety Board have yet to say what caused the Dec. 30 crash on Interstate 84 east of Pendleton.
The crash occurred near a spot called Deadman Pass, at the top of a steep, 7-mile descent from the Blue Mountains. A truck had applied sand to the icy road a few hours before the crash and was behind the bus making another run when the vehicle driven by Hwang plowed through a guardrail and 200 feet down an embankment.
On Tuesday, federal authorities also said the company’s authority to operate had been suspended for two months early last year because it didn’t pay a fine for failing to meet U.S. requirements for drug and alcohol testing.
The News Tribune contributed to this report.