B.C. bus company told to quit U.S. operations
The U.S. Department of Transportation has ordered the Canadian company whose bus crashed in Oregon last week, killing nine and injuring 39, to cease its operations in the U.S.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The USDOT order: 1.usa.gov/ZEXEZ5
Safety rating for Mi Joo Tour & Travel: 1.usa.gov/UItdMC
The driver of a bus that crashed in Oregon last week, killing nine and injuring 39, had been on the road too long without rest, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). On Tuesday, calling it "an imminent hazard to the public," the department ordered the Canadian company running the bus to cease operations in the United States.
Driver Haeng Kyu Hwang had worked 92 hours in the seven days preceding the Dec. 30 crash for Coquitlam, B.C.-based Mi Joo Tour & Travel — well beyond the 70-hour maximum hours of service per week permitted under federal regulations.
His bus and a second Mi Joo tour bus were traveling from Las Vegas to Vancouver, B.C., the tail end of a West Coast tour. The driver of the second bus had also been on duty too long, according to investigators for USDOT's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Investigators found the company had not been recording its drivers' hours on the road, rest breaks and off-duty periods as mandated by U.S. safety regulations. According to the USDOT's order, investigators found deterioration in the company's "safety-management controls and widespread safety violations that demonstrate a continuing and flagrant general disregard for compliance."
According to a lawsuit filed Monday on behalf of two Tacoma minors who were in the crash, Hwang was on the road 10-12 hours a day driving as much as 600 miles. In addition, Hwang was tour guide for all of his passengers, the suit says.
On the day of the crash, the driver lost control of the tour bus while driving downhill on an icy part of Oregon's Interstate 84 near an area called Deadman Pass, according to Oregon State Police. After slamming into a concrete barrier, the bus careened across the opposite lanes and plunged 200 feet down an embankment.
Several survivors, including those involved in the suit, have said they remember asking the driver to slow down before the crash happened, but to no avail.
Edward Kang, the owner of Mi Joo Tour & Travel, said in an email late Tuesday that the company is fully cooperating with the investigation, but he declined to answer questions pertaining to the USDOT's order.
"Unfortunately, I cannot tell you anymore," he wrote.
A check of a USDOT online database telling its visitors "Don't risk your life ... by making an uninformed decision" shows that the tour company had the highest safety rating — satisfactory — at the time of the crash.
But the company was cited for 11 violations in 2010 and eight violations in 2011, according to past compliance reviews that CNN acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request after the Oregon crash.
Many of those, USDOT said in a release Tuesday, were for a failure to meet drug- and alcohol-testing requirements. At one point in 2011, USDOT suspended the company's authority to operate until it paid a fine, a period of about two months.
But the company continued to operate in the United States even during that 2011 suspension, USDOT's most recent investigation of the company found.
Dan Uhm, of Seattle, whose mother, Eun Sook Uhm, barely survived the crash, said he thought it was unfair of USDOT to make it so hard to find out whether a bus company is safe. The family was unaware of the site before the trip, he said.
"Look how long it took for reporters to find out about this — how would the average person find out?" Uhm asked before attending a Tuesday memorial service for a friend of his mother's who died in the bus crash. Yong Ho Lee, of Lynnwood, had been friends with his mother for more than 20 years.
Uhm said minority populations such as the Korean community that frequently took the bus-company tours are even more vulnerable to companies with sketchy safety records because of language barriers.
"They're assuming that anything they're participating in is going to be regulated by U.S. agencies and that they have zero reason to suspect there would be any additional risk by going with this company," Uhm said.
Oregon State Police confirmed Tuesday that Richard Michael Sohn, a 19-year-old Seattle Pacific University student from Bellevue, died in the accident.
Many of the nine people who died in the crash had Puget Sound-area connections.
In addition to Sohn, those victims include Yong Ho Lee, 75, of Lynnwood; Chun Ho Bahn, 63, of Bothell; and Dale William Osborn, 57, of Spanaway. One couple — Oun Hong Jung, 67, and his wife Joong Wha Kim, 63 — had stayed with friends in Bothell before the trip.
Also killed were an 11-year-old girl, Youmin Kim, of South Korea; Ae Ja Kim, 61, of South Korea; and Seokmin Moon, 55, of Maple Ridge, B.C.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.