HIROSHIMA – A truck driver involved in last week’s fatal pileup inside a road tunnel in Hiroshima Prefecture has admitted to dozing off at the wheel, police said Wednesday.
Narimichi Minami, 33, who was arrested Friday on suspicion of vehicle-related manslaughter, told investigators he was routinely exhausted in his job as a long-distance trucker.
Minami swerved into the adjacent lane after losing control of his vehicle and crashing into cars in front of him, investigative sources said.
Two people were killed and about 70 others injured in the March 17 accident on the Sanyo Expressway in Higashihiroshima, which involved 12 vehicles. Pictures from the scene showed smoke billowing from the tunnel.
Minami was driving from Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, to Fukuoka, according to his company, 510 Exl K.K.
Police quoted him saying he set off from Kawaguchi on the afternoon of March 16 and “took a break at a service area on the way and slept a few hours inside the vehicle.”
It is thought that Minami’s driving records are lost as his truck was among the five vehicles that burned inside the tunnel.
The transport ministry on Tuesday conducted a special audit of procedures at the trucking firm and learned that it put Minami and 13 other drivers behind the wheel in multiple instances in February and March after exceeding their driving hours as permitted by safety regulations.
The ministry believed long-distance drivers may be routinely exceeding their hours.
“It seems (Minami) drove for long hours without any break and was rushing toward his destination in the hope of getting some rest once he arrived,” a transport ministry official said.
The police are also focusing on Minami’s driving schedules and whether he was continuously made to work excessively long hours or work without enough rest, they said. Moreover, none of the 42 drivers working for the company have ever been tested for blood alcohol level after driving.
Minami told investigators he found the job hard.
Meanwhile, Hiroshima Prefecture Police revealed Tuesday they were planning to recreate the scene of the accident using the same types of vehicles that were involved. Officers said Minami will be taken to the scene to help establish the sequence of events.
The police speculate Minami was hardly conscious at the time, being unable to steer or brake when the truck turned into ongoing traffic.