The driver of a tour bus involved in a fatal accident in May will not face all of the charges originally filed against him. The four involuntary manslaughter counts will remain, but the prosecution has dropped the misdemeanor reckless driving charge.
The bus, operated by a North Carolina discount bus company, was heading north on Interstate 95 when it swerved, struck an embankment and overturned. Four of the 60 passengers died, and many more were injured.
According to court documents, the 37-year-old driver told officers that he had fallen asleep at the wheel. His trial is scheduled for January 2012.
The bus company had a poor safety record prior to the accident. In the two years leading up to the crash, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration inspectors had cited the operator 46 times for driver fatigue. During that time, too, FMCSA records indicate the company had been in four accidents that resulted in injury or death. Its safety record put it in the bottom 15 percent of all commercial motor carriers.
The U.S. Department of Transportation reported that the company was operating that weekend after having obtained an extension on an appeal. The company had received an unsatisfactory safety rating, and regulations allowed operations to continue while the appeal was pending. Without the extension, the company would have closed its doors the weekend before the crash.
The incident prompted Ray LaHood, Secretary of Transportation, to order a change in procedure. The department no longer allows extensions of appeals.
Officials shut the company down immediately following the crash. The company continued to sell tickets using different company names until the department issued a cease-and-desist order.
Source: Raleigh News & Observer, “Misdemeanor charge dropped in deadly Va. bus crash,” Michael Felberbaum, Sept. 30, 2011