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January 9, 2013 at 7:08 PM

Operator of bus in fatal Oregon crash makes first public statement

Black ice contributed more to an Oregon bus crash that killed nine and injured 39 last week than the health of the bus’ driver, a lawyer for the Canadian tour company that operated the bus said Wednesday.

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Tuesday ordered that Mi Joo Tour & Travel, based in Coquitlam, B.C., immediately halt operations in the United States because of several safety concerns including the number of hours the driver had been on duty when the bus skidded off Interstate 84 on Dec. 30.

The USDOT investigation found that driver Haeng Kyu Hwang had been on duty for 92 hours the week of the crash. The federal limit is 70 hours of on-duty work per seven days.

Mark P. Scheer, a lawyer representing the company,  said Hwang had about 7.5 hours of sleep the night before the accident, about the same amount of sleep he’d had on other nights during the Western U.S. tour. He had been on the road only about 2.5 hours before the accident happened, he said.

“It is believed that black ice was a significant factor in the cause of the accident,” Scheer said at a short Wednesday news conference. “It appears that the area in question, unfortunately, has a history of traffic incidents, and there were other accidents in that area involving black ice on Dec. 30.”

Scheer did not comment on whether the tour itinerary allowed for Hwang to be on duty for 70 hours or less. According to Scheer, Hwang was a properly licensed driver who had previously worked as a school-bus driver with no history of bus-passenger accidents.

Though the USDOT’s cease-service order said the company gave Hwang no post-accident drug or alcohol test, Scheer said there is no evidence to suggest drugs or alcohol played a role in the accident.

Many of the nine people who died in the crash had Puget Sound-area connections.

Those victims include Richard Sohn, 19, of Bellevue; Yong Ho Lee, 75, of Lynnwood; Chun Ho Bahn, 63, of Bothell; and Dale William Osborn, 57, of Spanaway. One couple — Oun Hong Jung, 67, and his wife Joong Wha Kim, 63 — had stayed with friends in Bothell before the trip.

Also killed were an 11-year-old girl, Youmin Kim, of South Korea; Ae Ja Kim, 61, of South Korea; and Seokmin Moon, 55, of Maple Ridge, B.C.

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