National / Crime & Legal

Former head of expressway operator referred to prosecutors over 2012 tunnel collapse

Kyodo

The former president of an expressway operator was referred to prosecutors Thursday, together with other executives, over a 2012 tunnel collapse that killed nine people, police said.

Takekazu Kaneko, 74, the former chief of Nagoya-based Central Nippon Expressway Co., and Hisashi Iwata, the former head of its Tokyo-based road maintenance subsidiary, are among the eight people referred to prosecutors on suspicion of negligence resulting in deaths and injuries, investigators said.

In the December 2012 accident part of the concrete ceiling of the 4.7-kilometer Sasago Tunnel, which is about 80 kilometers west of Tokyo on the Chuo Expressway in Yamanashi Prefecture, collapsed and crushed three vehicles, killing nine people and injuring two others.

Kaneko and others allegedly failed to take steps necessary to prevent an accident in relation to an inspection in September 2012, even though the check showed that bolts used to anchor a steel structure to the tunnel ceiling were becoming loose and posing a danger of collapse.

The duration of the check was also shortened to prioritize another inspection at a different site, and the procedure was simplified as scaffolding that takes time to dismantle was not used, the investigators said.

The police took the action after families of the victims lodged a criminal complaint against four executives including Kaneko and Iwata, former head of the Central Nippon Highway Engineering Tokyo Co., on suspicion of negligence resulting in deaths and injuries in February 2013.

The families also filed a damages suit against the same four, but the Supreme Court upheld earlier this year a lower court ruling that rejected their claims.

Meanwhile, a ruling by the Yokohama District Court that found Central Nippon Expressway and its subsidiary negligent, and ordered them to pay the families around ¥440 million ($3.93 million) in total compensation, has been finalized.