Overwork dropped as new angles emerge in fatal bus accident

Kyodo

The bus company at the center of the nation’s worst expressway crash is not likely to be charged with labor violations related to overwork but is suspected of breaking other laws involving the driver’s own private business, investigative sources said Sunday.

The police are thinking of building cases against driver Kazan Kono, 43, on suspicion that he was running his own bus company without a proper permit, and against Rikuentai on suspicion of letting Kono’s firm use its name to subsequently acquire one, the sources said.

Kono was at the wheel when the bus ran edge-on into a sound-suppression wall in Gunma Prefecture during an overnight trip to Tokyo Disneyland in late April, killing seven passengers and injuring 38 others.

The Gunma Prefectural Police initially presumed that the April 29 accident stemmed from driver fatigue caused by the Chiba Prefecture-based bus firm. Kono, who was seriously injured, told the police he was “dozing off, feeling tired” before the crash occurred.

But Rikuentai had given Kono nearly three days off from April 25 before scheduling him to relieve a fellow driver for an overnight trip on April 27, and for driving the ill-fated bus back on the night of April 29, according to the account Rikuentai President Yumihide Hariu gave to the police.

Given this information, police are having a difficult time charging Rikuentai for overworking its employees, the sources said.

The police now plan to investigate Kono’s own bus company to determine whether it paid any fees to Rikuentai for the use of its name, they said.

At a press conference, Hariu denied receiving any such fees from Kono.