A driver for a low-fare interstate bus service was charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter Friday following a brief court appearance on another charge stemming from this week's crash in Virginia that killed four passengers and injured dozens more.
The bus was headed to Chinatown in New York City.
Kin Yiu Cheung, 37, of Flushing, N.Y., had been free on bond, but he was arrested on the new charges shortly after appearing in Caroline County court Friday morning. Cheung was in court to answer to a misdemeanor reckless driving charge stemming from the Tuesday crash on Interstate 95 about 30 miles north of Richmond.
The new charges are felonies, each carrying a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
"It's never easy to make determinations to bring serious charges, but there was enough evidence to bring the charge," Caroline County Commonwealth's Attorney Anthony Spencer said after Cheung's arrest.
Police say Cheung was fatigued when the Sky Express bus he was driving swerved off the highway shortly before 5 a.m., hit an embankment and overturned. It had departed Greensboro, N.C., Monday night bound for New York City with 58 people, including the driver.
Cheung's lawyer, Murray Janus, called the wreck a "tragic accident," adding he had not had time to talk to Cheung after his latest arrest.
Court records show Cheung had previous traffic violations in Virginia dating back to 2003, including speeding, following too closely, and failing to obey a highway sign and failing to stop or yield entering a highway. It was not clear whether the violations were personal or while driving a commercial vehicle.
Authorities declined to comment on their continuing investigation.
Virginia State Police were on the scene of Tuesday's crash within minutes, arriving quick enough that the bus was still rocking and survivors of the crash were crawling out of the bus into oncoming traffic, Spencer said.
Ben Johnson, a 47-year-old upholsterer from New York City, was riding the bus back from North Carolina after visiting family. He said the bus swerved off the road and hit the rumble strips on the shoulder before the driver tried to get back on the road.
"That's when we started flipping. I was thrown around pretty good ... but not like the rest of them," said Johnson, who broke his leg in the crash and crawled through a broken window in the pre-dawn darkness to get out of the bus, which Johnson called "filthy."
"They did something right. That's good," Johnson said of the charges against the driver. "All he had to do was really just pull over for 10 minutes. We were already late. A few minutes didn't matter, so that could have been between someone else's life, just those few minutes."
A spokeswoman for Sky Express did not immediately comment.
Transportation Department officials were in the process of shutting down the company at the time of the crash, but had given the Charlotte, N.C.-based company an extra 10 days to appeal an unsatisfactory safety rating.
A timeline released by the department earlier this week indicated that without the extension, Sky Express would have stopped operations the weekend before the crash. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has directed the department to stop extending appeals periods for operators found to be unsafe.
Following the crash, federal officials shut down the bus line.
Sky Express is part of an industry of inexpensive buses that travel the East Coast offering cheap fares, convenient routes and, in some cases, free wireless Internet. The industry is in the fifth year of a boom, but a string of deadly accidents also has prompted calls for tougher federal regulation.
According to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records, Sky Express buses have been involved in four crashes with an injury or fatality — it didn't specify which — during the two-year period that ended May 20. The company also has been cited for 46 violations of drivers being fatigued over that same time, ranking it worse than 86 percent of similar companies in that category.
Virginia State Police have identified those killed in the crash as Karen Blyden-Decastro, 46, of Cambria Heights, N.Y.; Sie Giok Giang, 63, of Philadelphia; Josefa Torres, 78, of Jamaica, N.Y.; and Denny Estefany Martinez, 25, of Jersey City, N.J.
Police said Cheung was being held without bond at Pamunkey Regional Jail. A court hearing is set for Wednesday, and a grand jury is to hear the latest charges on July 6.