National

On anniversary, bus firm boss apologizes for 2016 crash in Nagano's Karuizawa that killed 15

Kyodo

The operator of a bus involved in a crash that killed 15 people in the ski resort town of Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, offered an apology to the victims Tuesday to mark the third anniversary of the accident.

Misaku Takahashi, 57, president of the operator ESP, offered flowers at a monument set up near the accident site at around 5 a.m., the time he first heard of the crash.

“I mourn the loss of lives and apologize from the bottom of my heart to everyone involved, including the victims’ families and friends,” he said.

In the early hours of Jan. 15, 2016, an ESP bus driven by 65-year-old Hiroshi Tsuchiya careened off a road in Karuizawa after hitting a guardrail at a speed of 96 kilometers per hour, killing 15 people on board, including the driver, and injuring 26 others.

Takahashi has been under investigation by prosecutors on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in injury or death since June 2017. In December last year, relatives of the victims also filed a damages suit against ESP and the president.

On Tuesday, Takahashi left the crash site without commenting on the investigation and lawsuit.

Karuizawa Mayor Susumu Fujimaki and a dozen officials also offered flowers at the accident site at around 9 a.m. “I have no words thinking about the families’ distress. I would like to strive to make our town free of traffic accidents,” the mayor said.

“Our daughter dreamed of having a family full of joy,” said Naomichi and Kumiko Komuro, the parents of Yui, a 22-year-old Waseda University student who was killed in the accident.

“We would like those in charge to investigate the cause (of the crash) and prevent similar accidents,” the parents said in a statement released by their lawyer.

Meanwhile four men who were aboard the bus and survived the accident visited the site and offered a floral tribute to one of their university friends, Kan Tahara, a 19-year-old student of Tokyo Metropolitan University who was killed alongside the 14 other victims.

Among the four mourners was a man who has landed a job related to traffic safety, in hopes of preventing a similar accident.

Another man, 24, said “I wanted to spend time with Tahara and talk about the challenges of having graduated and entering the workforce,” he said.

Rikuto Oya, 19, was another victim killed in the accident. He was a rugby club member at Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology.

His 53-year-old father, Yoshihiko Oya, looked at the slope where the bus fell down and said, “I have felt empty over the past three years after losing my son.”

“I wanted to watch this year’s Rugby World Cup with him,” he added.

Naoki Ogi, a specially appointed professor of education at Hosei University, offered flower bouquets to four deceased students who took his seminars.

Ogi said he talked to the four in his heart and asked them to “feel relieved” because their family members are “moving on little by little” to get over the tragedy.

“I told the (deceased) students to rest assured that their families and the bereaved students are gradually moving on,” said Ogi.

Tsuyoshi Ikeda, 75, who lost his niece, Eri, to the accident, said: “She was like my real daughter.”

After laying flowers, Ikeda shed tears while grasping at the fence facing the spot of the accident. Eri was a 19-year-old Tokai University student.

“It is hard for me to accept the reality,” he said.