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Oregon bus crash involved 'black ice' conditions, lawyer alleges

January 10, 2013|By Andrew Khouri
  • A mangled guard rail bears the scars where a day earlier, on Dec. 30, a tourist bus overran it and plummeted 200 feet down an embankment in rural eastern Oregon, killing nine people.
A mangled guard rail bears the scars where a day earlier, on Dec. 30, a tourist… (Randy L. Rasmussen / Oregonian )

An attorney for the company involved in last month's bus plunge in east Oregon said "it is believed black ice was a significant factor” in the accident that killed nine people and injured 38.

In addition, bus driver Haeng Kyu Hwang was rested at the time of the Dec. 30 crash, according to Mark P. Scheer, an attorney representing Mi Joo Tour & Travel.

"Mr. Hwang had approximately 7½ hours of sleep," Scheer said in a statement Wednesday night, and "had been on the road for approximately 2½ hours ... with a rest stop during that time. Mr. Hwang was in good health and he does not use alcohol or tobacco. There is no evidence to suggest that drugs or alcohol played any role in this accident.”

The accident remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Oregon State Police.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration this week ordered Mi Joo Tour & Travel to halt all U.S. passenger service, alleging the Canadian-based company failed to ensure its drivers had sufficient rest and scheduled them in violation of federal regulations limiting hours worked.

Hwang had been on duty for 92 hours over an eight-day period, officials said. The federal limit is 70 hours.

“The safety of all travelers on our highways and roads remains our highest priority,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. “We will move quickly to shut down bus companies that do not operate safely.”

In its order shutting down Mi Joo’s U.S. operations, the agency said it found “noncompliance with drug and alcohol testing requirements, including no post-accident drug or alcohol test on a driver involved in a fatal crash .... ”

The accident occurred around the beginning of a seven-mile downgrade on Interstate 84 that sees "some of the most changeable and severe weather conditions in the Northwest," the Oregon Department of Transportation said in a publication warning drivers about the dangers of Emigrant Hill.

According to Scheer, "It is believed that black ice was a significant factor in the cause of the accident. It appears that the area in question, unfortunately, has a history of traffic incidents and there were other accidents in that area involving black ice on Dec. 30, 2012.”

The Transportation Department’s action this week was not its first against Mi Joo. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration cited the company in 2011 for failing to meet drug and alcohol testing requirements. A year earlier, it fined the company  “for separate violations involving drug and alcohol testing of its drivers,” the agency said.

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