MAEBASHI, GUNMA PREF. – Police handed a tour bus driver over to prosecutors Thursday for causing Japan’s worst single-vehicle crash ever on an expressway in Gunma Prefecture.
Kazan Kono, 43, was quoted as telling investigators that he had fallen asleep because of fatigue when the bus he was driving veered into the leading edge of a sound-suppression wall on the Kanetsu Expressway in Fujioka early Sunday morning. The bus, which was on its way to Tokyo Disneyland in Chiba Prefecture from Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, was impaled by the wall and nearly cut in half, leaving seven passengers dead and 38 injured.
Before the horrific crash, Kono had completed a similar bus trip from Tokyo Disneyland to JR Kanazawa Station starting Friday night and ending Saturday morning, Osaka-based tour agency Harvest Holdings said earlier this week. The ill-fated trip to Tokyo Disneyland began Saturday night.
Investigators are now examining Kono’s health and what he was doing before the crash to determine whether it was caused by overwork, they said. He is suspected of negligent driving resulting in death and injury.
They will also question the president of Rikuentai, his bus company, based in Chiba Prefecture.
Meanwhile, transport ministry officials said Wednesday that they have found the bus company was violating government regulations, such as by failing to provide instructions on routes and scheduled stops to its drivers, the officials said.
On Wednesday, police discovered that the driver didn’t take a shorter route via the Joshinetsu Expressway designated by the travel agency that organized the tour.
Unlike the Kanetsu Expressway, the Joshinetsu has a section where the lanes are undivided and also has many tunnels and curves.
Kono, who was arrested Tuesday, was told by the bus company to get his route schedule from the travel agency, ministry officials said.
Rikuentai’s president told the ministry that the company has not been conducting required checks on its drivers before departure, including alcohol breath tests, they said.