Tour bus operator denies violations caused accident

Kyodo

The operator of a tour bus that crashed into an expressway wall in late April in Gunma Prefecture denied Sunday that the company’s violation of regulations in its daily operations caused the fatal accident.

Yumihide Hariu, 55, president of the firm Rikuentai based in Chiba Prefecture, told a press conference in Tokyo that he believes the crash occurred as Kazan Kono, a 43-year-old tour bus driver arrested over the accident, had dozed off.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry has said Rikuentai employed Kono on a day-work basis in violation of the road transport law and failed to provide instructions detailing routes and scheduled stops to its drivers as required by the government.

Hariu apologized and expressed his “deepest condolences” to the families of the seven, as well as the 38 other passengers who were injured in the accident, at the outset of the news conference.

The president said Kono, who was arrested on suspicion of negligent driving resulting in death and injury, was “not overstrained” and there were no problems regarding his driving skills at the time of the accident. Kono drove a bus for 100 hours a month on average, Hariu added.

Itaru Yamamoto, a lawyer for Rikuentai who was also present at the press conference, said Hariu was not aware that Kono’s employment status violated the law banning short-term employment of bus drivers for safety reasons.

Hariu also admitted that he had let Kono personally solicit Chinese tourists to join a bus tour under the company’s name in violation of the road transport law. Kono owns four of the 19 buses operated by Rikuentai.

The bus driven by Kono crashed into a roadside wall on the Kanetsu Expressway on April 29 on its way to Tokyo Disneyland in Chiba from Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture. The accident killed seven passengers.

The driver, who was sent to prosecutors Thursday over the accident, was quoted as telling investigators that he had dozed off as a result of fatigue.