Lawsuit brought against Korean tour bus owner

By Charles Lam
Northwest Asian Weekly

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Image by Han Bui/NWAW

A lawsuit has been brought against the Korean-language tour bus group, bus driver, and company president involved in the tour bus accident in Oregon last December that left nine dead and 29 injured.

The lawsuit was filed by Tacoma-based Herrmann Scholbe law firm, originally on behalf of two Korean teenagers, Chae Jong-Hyun and An Seong-Jun. They were joined by Lee Jung-Nyeo, who sustained multiple fractures and continues to convalesce in a Portland hospital after two surgeries; her husband, Lee Woon-Jae; Kim Man-Sun, who survived, but was severely injured with both legs broken; and two Korean brothers studying English at Skagit Valley College, Yoo Byung-Woo and Yoo Hyoung-Jin.

The lawsuit alleges that the defendants engaged in willful and wanton misconduct, essentially defined as reckless disregard for the safety of others where the dangers are obvious.

The complaint alleges that the driver of the tour bus, who also doubled as a tour guide continuously without relief over the first 8 days of a tour package, violated Federal regulations governing the maximum allowable time on-duty and driving.

Herrmann alleged in the complaint that in the two days immediately preceding the accident, Mi Joo Tour & Travel’s driver worked over 27.5 hours, while driving over 1,200 miles and conducting a tour of the Grand Canyon.

“It is inescapable, anyone would be extremely fatigued after working at that pace – especially after working 10-12 hours every day driving over 2,000 miles for the 5 day period, before the last two grueling days before the accident,” the attorney said.

“The deadly combination of driver fatigue, ignored warnings, and excessive speed in hazardous winter conditions were dictated by management policies established by Defendant Edward Kang that were based upon cost and profit considerations, rather than the safety of their passengers,” the complaint alleges. “Add to the mix ignored warnings about fog, snow, and ice present on a well-known treacherous stretch of highway. The posted speed limit is 55 mph, but the Oregon DOT had warned drivers that ‘Bad weather demands lower speeds,’ yet, according to eyewitnesses, the bus was traveling over 70 MPH at the time of the accident.”

The tour bus careened through a guardrail along an icy Oregon highway and several hundred feet down a steep embankment Sunday, Dec. 30, killing nine people and injuring 29 others. It was heading from Las Vegas to Vancouver, Canada.

The charter bus was carrying approximately 40 people when it lost control around 10:30 a.m. on snow- and ice-covered lanes of Interstate 84 in a rural area of eastern Oregon, according to the Oregon State Police. The bus crashed near the start of a 7-mile section of road that winds down a hill.

The bus came to a rest at the bottom of a snowy slope and landed upright, with little or no debris visible around the crash site.

More than a dozen rescue workers descended the hill and used ropes to help retrieve people from the wreckage in freezing weather. The bus driver was among the survivors, but did not immediately speak to police because of the severity of the injuries the driver had suffered.

Lt. Greg Hastings said the bus crashed along the west end of the Blue Mountains, and west of an area called Deadman Pass. The area is so dangerous that the state transportation department published specific warnings for truck drivers, advising it had “some of the most changeable and severe weather conditions in the Northwest” and can lead to slick conditions and poor visibility.

St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton treated 26 people from the accident, said hospital spokesman Larry Blanc. Five of those treated at St. Anthony were transported to other facilities.

I-84 is a major east-west highway through Oregon that follows the Columbia River Gorge.

Others, some from Canada, are expected to join the lawsuit. (end)

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Charles Lam can be reached at charles@nwasianweekly.com.

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