Bus firm in fatal crash searched

Kyodo

Police searched a Chiba bus company and the home of its president on Monday following a shocking crash in Gunma Prefecture that has been termed the deadliest single-vehicle highway accident in Japanese history.

Bus company Rikuentai, based in Inzai, Chiba Prefecture, and the home of Rikuentai President Yumihide Haryu, 55, were searched on suspicion of negligent driving resulting in death and injury, the police said. Haryu’s home is on the firm’s premises.

The bus, which left Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, for Tokyo Disneyland at around 10 p.m. on Saturday, the first day of the Golden Week holidays, was cruising along the Kanetsu Expressway in Fujioka when it ran into the leading edge of a 3-meter-high sound-suppression wall at 4:40 a.m., police said. The wall impaled the bus and nearly sliced it in half, ripping through its left side.

The crash killed seven passengers and injured 39 others, including the driver.

The victims were identified by police as Ikuko Hayashi, 50, Sachi Miyashita, 19, and Maya Hasegawa, 23, from Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture; Masahiro Kizawa, 50, and Chikako Matsumoto, 29, of Kanazawa; Naomi Yamase, 43, of Noto, Ishikawa Prefecture; and Kurumi Iwakami, 17, of Hakusan, Ishikawa Prefecture.

Police have confiscated Rikuentai’s daily operations report and working regulations to determine whether the accident was caused by driver fatigue.

The 43-year-old driver, Kazan Kono, who was seriously injured, told police that he dozed off before the crash and that there was no backup driver on the overnight bus, which was taking a tour group to Tokyo Disneyland.

Police inspected the wreckage while the transport ministry sent officials to search the bus company and the tour operator, Harvest Holdings, based in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture.

The National Police Agency said the accident is the worst single-vehicle accident ever.

An arrest warrant has been obtained for Kono, who is likely to be arrested after he recovers on suspicion of negligent driving resulting in death and injury.