• Kyodo

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Three passengers died and 24 others were injured when a bus crashed into a highway divider and turned over on the Banetsu Expressway in Fukushima Prefecture on Thursday morning, police said.

The three people were thrown out of the bus when it crashed in the town of Inawashiro around 6:10 a.m., the police said. Two of the 24 injured are in critical condition.

Investigators arrested the bus driver, 49-year-old Takaaki Yagawa, on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in injury. They plan to upgrade the charge against him now that three passengers have been confirmed dead.

Yagawa, who suffered a minor injury, was quoted as telling a truck driver who had been behind the bus that he made a steering error while trying to close a window.

Those killed were not wearing seat-belts, passengers were quoted as saying.

The expressway bus had left Osaka on Wednesday evening and was bound for Sendai.

The accident occurred on a straight road with two lanes on each side; visibility was good and road conditions were dry.

Using kanji, the bus operator released the names of the deceased passengers, which can be read as Manabu Sato, Kinsaku Chiba, and Fumio Yonehara. Sato, 18, is from Sendai; Chiba is from Fujisawa, Iwate Prefecture; and Yonehara is from Yonago, Tottori Prefecture, according to police.

Investigators were still trying to contact their relatives for identification purposes.

The bus, carrying 26 passengers from Osaka, Kyoto, Miyagi, Fukushima, Iwate, Tokushima and other prefectures, had left Osaka around 8 p.m. Wednesday. It stopped in Kyoto and was scheduled to arrive in Sendai around 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

It was operated by Kintetsu Bus Co. of Osaka.

The bus had two drivers who were taking turns, according to the police and Kintetsu Bus.

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