MAEBASHI, GUNMA PREF. – The driver of a tour bus who caused a fatal accident on an expressway in April 2012 pleaded partially guilty of professional negligence Tuesday.
In entering the plea during the first session of his Maebashi District Court trial, Kazan Kono, 45, contended that he did not feel drowsy while at the wheel but admitted he had not had sufficient sleep.
The bus was impaled by a roadside wall after slamming into the end of it on the Kan-Etsu Expressway in Fujioka, Gunma Prefecture, in the early hours of April 29, 2012. Kono had continued to drive despite allegedly becoming drowsy due to exhaustion and lack of sleep. Seven passengers were killed and 38 injured.
Kono was charged with professional negligence resulting in death and injury for failing to exercise the due care required in driving a motor vehicle. Under the Penal Code he could face up to seven years in prison.
Prosecutors said Kono failed to take due care after feeling drowsy about 20 minutes before the crash.
Kono’s counsel admitted the defendant drove the bus on insufficient rest but denied he felt drowsy just before the accident.
Kono has been diagnosed as suffering from sleep apnea syndrome, a type of sleep disorder.
The prosecutors said after Kono fell asleep at the wheel, the bus traveled some 500 meters on the expressway linking Tokyo with Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture.
The trial will focus on whether Kono fell asleep at the wheel due to his sleep disorder, judicial experts said.