Tour bus driver distracted before crash? - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Tour bus driver distracted before crash?

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Posted: Monday, February 2, 2009 10:58 pm | Updated: 1:21 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

LAS VEGAS - Investigators are looking into whether the driver of a tour bus might have become distracted before a crash that killed seven people, a state official said Monday.

Three survivors of Friday's crash near Hoover Dam have been interviewed, and investigators were checking on the 48-year-old driver's driving history, medical records and certification to operate the bus, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Lt. James Warriner said.

"We are focusing on the driver possibly being distracted for some unknown reason," he said.

Warriner said the survivors indicated the driver might have been distracted, but he did not elaborate on what those distractions might have been or whether they played a role in the crash.

Officials said they have not been able to interview the driver because of his injuries.

The driver, 48-year-old Han Dong of Rosemead, Calif., remains in fair condition at University Medical Center in Las Vegas. Investigators said they don't believe he was impaired at the time of the crash.

The tour guide and six Chinese tourists were killed in Friday's crash along U.S. 93 in Arizona, 26 miles south of the Nevada border. Ten others were injured.

The charter bus company that owned the tour bus had its charter certificate suspended on Monday by the California Public Utilities Commission.

The commission's Web site listed the carrier status of D.W. Tour & Charter of San Gabriel, Calif., as suspended, because the company's liability insurance expired on Monday, commission spokesman Christopher Chow said.

"Effectively, they cannot operate," Chow said.

Chow said the company had been fined $750 in October for hiring an unlicensed bus outfit as a subcarrier.

Pete Kotowski, lead investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said D.W. Tour & Charter, which owns two buses and employs four drivers, passed its last federal review in August 2007. Six months prior, a review showed the company had insufficient drug and alcohol testing and policies for vetting drivers, he said.

The company is listed as "satisfactory" by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Spokesman Duane DeBruyne said the agency will launch a compliance review of the company in light of the crash.

Insurance is required for the carrier to maintain federal certification, but DeBruyne said that "everything is in order on the federal side."

Chow said the California commission's suspension only applied to the company's California operations.

The tour bus company did not immediately return calls and an e-mail seeking comment.

Kotowski said the 30-seat bus was smaller than a typical tour bus — similar in size to airport car-rental shuttles — and did not have seat belts. All the seats faced forward, he said.

Kotowski said it was not clear whether the driver worked directly for D.W. Tour & Charter or was hired to drive the bus just for the trip.

Authorities say the group was returning to Las Vegas from the Grand Canyon when the bus crashed about 4 p.m. Friday near Dolan Springs, Ariz. The tourists were Chinese nationals who had flown from Shanghai to San Francisco and had most recently been in Las Vegas, the Arizona Department of Public Safety has said.

The bus drifted into the right shoulder lane before the driver overcorrected, sending the bus across two traffic lanes and into a gravel median separating the northbound and southbound lanes, Kotowski said. It rolled over at least once — ejecting most of its passengers out of the windows — before coming to rest on its side.

Kotowski did not say how fast the bus was traveling. The speed limit on the straight stretch of road is 65 mph.

Warriner said DPS is holding off on identifying those killed at the request of the Chinese consulate. He said some family members of victims still are en route to Las Vegas.

The Mohave County Medical Examiner's Office in Kingman said it received six of the deceased victims — four women and two men. The body of another man was sent to the Clark County coroner's office in Las Vegas, Mohave County medical examiner Dr. Rexene Worrell said.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety released the identities and ages of the passengers late Monday and said they all were from China.

In addition to the bus driver, three others remained hospitalized at University Medical Center in Las Vegas, about 70 miles northwest of the crash site, hospital spokesman Rick Plummer said Monday. Two females — Ying Lei Zhao, 35, and Ya Fen Cheng, 51 — were in critical condition. Shun Xing Zhao, a 61-year-old male, was listed in fair condition.

An 8-year-old boy, Shuang Wu, and his parents — 47-year-old Shou Gui Wu and 35-year-old Rui Hua Bao — were treated and released from hospitals.

Tian Yi Xie, a 19-year-old female, and Bang Yao Hong, a 50-year-old man, remained hospitalized at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center in Las Vegas. Hospital spokeswoman Ashlee Seymour wouldn't confirm the hospital had those patients, but she said two tour bus crash victims close in age were listed in fair condition.

UMC announced late Monday night that Yee Kwan Lau, a 41-year-old female, was transported to the Las Vegas hospital. She was listed in good condition, Plummer said.

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