Charter bus driver at center of deadly 2019 crash faces trial

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: February 11, 2020 | 12:30 p.m.

Two killed, 54 injured in March 2019 crash

PRINCE GEORGE – The New York native charged in connection with a charter bus crash that left two people dead and dozens of others injured along Interstate 95 nearly a year ago is expected to go on trial this month, roughly 11 months to the day of the crash.

Staten Island, N.Y. resident and charter bus driver Yui Man Chow will return to Prince George County Circuit Court on February 18 for what is expected to be a two-day trial, facing a pair of involuntary manslaughter charges following the mid-March 2019 deadly crash.

On what was a foggy morning in Prince George County and much of the region, the bus driven by Chow was attempting to traverse Exit 45, which links to South Crater Road but, as it did, the bus ended up running off the left side of the ramp and overturned, with Virginia State Police commenting that speed was being considered “a causative factor in the crash,” with the posted safe speed for the exit ramp being 25 miles per hour, which is prominently featured on a yellow warning sign prior to the exit.

Given the sheer number of those injured in the crash, local authorities declared it a mass casualty incident and requested additional resources from neighboring communities to aid in the response and help coordinate getting victims to area hospitals across the Metro-Richmond area.

As a result of the crash, two people, a male and female victim, perished from their injuries while scores of others were taken to local medical facilities or treated at the scene.

Prince George County immediately opened its doors to those affected and their families, opening the Central Wellness Center as a staging area and reunification hub to reconnect the passengers with relatives.

While those on the bus and their families were brought back together, the legal case against Chow began to progress, with the charter bus driver being charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter. He would appear in court days later, making no comment, where he was barred from leaving the state until his next court date in June.

During that appearance, prosecutors were given the go-ahead to present their case to a seating of the grand jury in July and the decision to drop a reckless driving charge that had been levied against Chow. He also was allowed to be released of the location tracking ankle monitor he had been required to wear since March.

One month later, the grand jury found there was sufficient evidence to indict Chow on felony manslaughter charges and allow the case to proceed through the county’s circuit court. Due to the ongoing prosecution, Prince George County Commonwealth’s Attorney Susan Fierro has been unable to comment on the case but, leading up to the case’s presentation to the grand jury, she said this process is standard for these kinds of cases.

“That is the procedure on every felony case that is charged by warrant,” she explained at the time to The Prince George Journal. “There is a preliminary hearing where, either the defendant can waive the hearing or have us put on evidence, and the court needs to find probable cause in order to send the case to circuit court. So, what happened … was really the same thing that would happen in any felony case charged by warrant.”

Neither Tao’s Travel or Chow’s defense attorney, at last report, an attorney out of the Bahuriak Law Group based out of the Northeast U.S., have commented on the case in the months after the crash.

If convicted, Chow faces up to a decade behind bars with a mandatory minimum of one year in prison.

The National Transportation Safety Board was among the agencies investigating the case and, nearly a year after the crash, no reports or additional information has been shared by the federal agency. In addition, the status of a pending lawsuit filed by a passenger on the bus remains unknown. In the days following the crash, that passenger filed a $10 million lawsuit against Chow and Tao’s Travel out of Middleton, Mass., accusing those named of negligence in maintenance, operations, and other aspects of their business.

Additionally, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has rated the company “satisfactory,” with that rating being provided on May 30, 2019, nearly two months after the fatal crash. The March crash is documented on the FMCSA’s website, noting two deaths and 54 injuries as a result of the rollover.

Even as the case moved through the courts, some in the community speculated if the driver confused the Exit 45 ramp toward South Crater Road for the Interstate 295 on-ramp, located less than a mile to the north.

Those questions were posed by county supervisors to VDOT, who later confirmed they were working to “redesign” the signs installed at the Exit 45 in response to driver concerns. In an interview at the time, VDOT spokesperson Bethanie Glover said the signage in place at the time of the crash “met all federal requirements as directed by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices,” which is a Federal Highway Administration standard used by road managers to install and maintain traffic control devices on all public streets, highways, bikeways, and private roads open to public travel.

Even still, they opted to implement a series of improvements at the intersection, including larger stop signs at the end of the exit ramp at its intersection with South Crater Road, new chevron signs to alert drivers to the bend in the roadway, and signs along U.S. Route 301 on the intersection’s approach to advise drivers of the crossroad ahead.

They also added a refreshed exit ramp sign that denotes the exit number, the intersecting road ahead, U.S. Route 301, an advisory speed warning and a destination of Petersburg, along with a number of other signage updates, all of which were implemented just before the summer of last year.

“Safety is always VDOT’s first priority,” Glover said following the improvements’ implementation. “Traffic engineering experts will continue to monitor and evaluate the safety and operations of the interchange during and after the implementation of these adjustments, and will make additional changes as needed.”

As for Chow, he remains free on bond ahead of his trial this month.

Copyright 2020 by Womack Publishing
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