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Flushing bus driver faces one less charge

TimesLedger Newspapers

Prosecutors dropped a reckless driving charge against the Flushing driver who crashed a discount bus on Interstate 95 in Virginia, killing four people, two of whom were residents of southeast Queens, and injuring many other riders, according to the Associated Press.

Caroline County Commonwealth’s Attorney Tony Spencer said his office will not pursue the charge against Sky Express Bus Co. driver Kin Yiu Cheung, although four felony charges of involuntary manslaughter still stand against him. Cheung faces up to 10 years in prison for each count if he is convicted.

Spencer said prosecutors chose to drop the lesser reckless driving charge, for which the maximum sentence was just 12 months, because they were worried the defendant’s lawyers could use it as a means to escape the more serious manslaughter charges. The reckless driving charge was due to be tried in traffic court in September, while his trial on the manslaughter charges will begin in January.

“We were worried, even though I’m convinced it’s not a good argument, that they would try to argue that we were barred by principles of double jeopardy from pursuing the involuntary manslaughter charges,” he said, adding that prosecutors felt it was not worth risking the felony cases over a traffic case.

The bus left Greensboro, N.C., at 10:30 p.m. May 30 and nearly six hours later Cheung allegedly fell asleep at the wheel, causing the bus to run off the right side of the northbound lanes of I-95 in Caroline County and overturn, according to Virginia authorities.

Twenty of the 57 passengers on the vehicle, which was heading back to Chinatown, were hospitalized with various injuries and four died at the hospital, the police said. Karen Blyden-Decastro, 46, of Cambria Heights, and Josefa Torres, 78, of Jamaica, were two of the fatalities.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has since shut down Sky Express, saying the company had various violations in the past related to screening drivers for licensing, experience, medical fitness and English-language skills and having drivers operate too many hours.

The fatal accident was one in a string of dangerous crashes that have involved cheap bus companies that operate out of Chinatown and Flushing.

On March 12, 14 passengers were killed at the Connecticut-New York border while they were traveling to Chinatown from a casino. The driver allegedly fell asleep at the wheel, according to investigators. Wei Wang, of Forest Hills, was killed two days later when the Super Luxury Tours Bus he was driving crashed near East Brunswick, N.J., while transporting 43 people from Chinatown to Pennsylvania.

Later that month, 23 people who were traveling to Canada on a bus operated by the Flushing-based Big Boy Coach Inc. were injured in a crash in New Hampshire.

According to the AP, DOT officials were in the process of shutting down Sky Express at the time of the accident, but had awarded it 10 extra days to appeal a negative safety ruling.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has since directed the department to stop extending appeals for bus operators deemed unsafe, and state and local officials have called for tighter restrictions on bus companies.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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