Utah bus crash that killed 3 Japanese tourists recalls 2009 Hoover Dam fatal wreck

By Paul Foy, AP
Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Deadly Utah tour bus crash recalls 2009 wreck

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah tour bus crash that killed three Japanese tourists and injured 11 others on their way to Bryce Canyon National Park happened miles from a 2009 bus crash that claimed 6 Chinese tourists near Hoover Dam.

But they share a nagging similarity: both were blamed on driver distraction.

Prosecutors said the driver of the bus that careened off a straight section of Interstate 15 in southern Utah Monday faces possible criminal charges for his role in the rollover crash, and investigators have blamed driver error.

“From all indications, the driver was not focused or paying attention on his driving,” said Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Ted Tingey. “He was possibly drowsy at the time, and that’s when he went off the left side of the road and rolled it.”

The van-sized bus ended up in a mangled heap on its top, wheels up, just off the highway. The passengers’ luggage and other debris was scattered across the weedy median. Eleven other members of the tour group were injured, with seven of them in critical condition late Tuesday.

Three of the passengers were found dead at the scene.

Fumiyoshi Kashima, Japan’s deputy consul-general in Denver, had little information to offer about the Japanese tourists.

“We don’t know why the accident happened,” Kashima told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Japan dispatched another diplomatic official to Salt Lake City hospitals, but the man told AP he wasn’t authorized to speak, and the patients told hospital officials they don’t want any information released to the media.

A National Transportation Safety Board report issued in June said the Hoover Dam crash might have been prevented if the board’s previous recommendations for stability control improvements and lane departure warning system had been adopted by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The NTSB also has called for improved passenger restraints and strengthened windows and roofs on mid-size commercial buses.

NTSB spokesman Nicholas Worrell said the board was looking at Monday’s bus crash “in a limited way” because of its similarity to the 2009 crash near Dolan Springs, Ariz. No formal investigation was planned, Worrell said.

The Utah Highway Patrol said it would not identify the driver in Monday’s crash, a 26-year-old Japanese man, because he was under investigation. Names of most passengers were released.

Iron County Attorney Scott Garrett is screening the case for possible charges, Trooper Todd Johnson said.

Seven passengers were flown in critical condition to hospitals in the Salt Lake City area, 250 miles away from the crash scene, including a 14-year girl from Osaka, Japan, according to authorities and a tour company.

Some of the other four injured passengers have been released from a Cedar City hospital. The bus driver also was treated for minor injuries and released.

Hiroki Hayase, a 20-year-old man from Osaka, was killed in the crash, authorities said. The identities of two others who died — a 38-year-old man and 40-year-old woman, both from Tokyo — have not been released by authorities who are trying to notify relatives in Japan.

The bus tour started in Las Vegas, made a stop at Utah’s Zion National Park and crashed at 6:40 p.m. Monday about 90 miles short of Bryce Canyon, authorities said.

Bryce Canyon is a popular stop for foreigners who account for about half of the 2 million visitors it gets in a year, a spokesman said.

Las Vegas is a busy hub for tourists who set off for western landmarks, including the Grand Canyon, Death Valley and Utah’s Monument Valley.

Associated Press writers Jennifer Dobner in Salt Lake City, Ken Ritter in Las Vegas and Ryan Nakashima in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

will not be displayed