By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: July 3, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – A Prince George County grand jury will soon consider if there is sufficient evidence to proceed with involuntary manslaughter charges against the driver of a charter bus that crashed in the county, killing two people and injuring dozens of others.
In an interview, Prince George County Commonwealth Attorney Susan Fierro confirmed her office has been allowed to proceed with presenting their case for felony involuntary manslaughter charges against Staten Island, NY native Yui Man Chow during a seating of the grand jury in July in Prince George County Circuit Court in connection with Chow’s role in the deadly rollover crash along Interstate 95 at Exit 45 on March 19.
According to Virginia State Police at the time of the crash, the incident occurred as the bus attempted to take the exit ramp but the bus ended up running off the left side of the ramp and overturned. As they continued to investigate, Virginia State Police said speed was being considered “a causative factor in the crash.” The posted safe speed for the ramp where the crash occurred is 25 miles per hour, which is prominently featured on a yellow warning sign prior to the exit.
The crash prompted a large-scale regional response as a number of agencies game together to render aid to the victims of the crash. State police reported the bus was traveling from Florida to New York at the time of the deadly crash.
Days later, Chow appeared in a Prince George County courtroom where he offered no comments and was ordered to remain in the Commonwealth until his next court appearance before being released on his own recognizance. Last Monday, that court appearance took place, where prosecutors saw their charges of involuntary manslaughter certified to go before a grand jury.
Additionally, the reckless driving charge against Chow has been withdrawn and the location tracking ankle monitor that had been affixed to Chow was removed following last week’s hearing as he remains under pre-trial supervision, according to Fierro.
If a grand jury believes the Commonwealth has presented sufficient evidence to support further prosecution, they would issue a true bill, also known as an indictment against Chow on the charges.
Due to the ongoing nature of the case, Commonwealth Attorney Fierro was unable to comment on the particulars of the case or discuss any evidence or findings they have unearthed as part of their prosecution of the case, but she did say presenting felony charges to a grand jury is a common practice in their office.
“That is the procedure on every felony case that is charged by warrant,” she explained. “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 [last Monday] was really the same thing that would happen in any felony case charged by warrant.”
A specific date for when the grand jury will hear the case is unknown, beyond the timetable given by prosecutors of sometime in July.
According to court records, New York resident is being represented by David Bahuriak of the Bahuriak Law Group, who has offices in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Messages left with the law firm by The Prince George Journal for comment on the case were not returned.
Some of the questions posed by those who live around and travel along that stretch of Interstate 95 are if the weather in the area at the time of crash as a heavy fog enveloped much of the region, or what some perceived as confusing road signage, or a combination of the two, contributed to the deadly rollover crash.
Two months after the crash, Prince George County leaders posed that question to representatives from the Virginia Department of Transportation and, in May, supervisors were informed that the state agency was indeed looking at the Exit 45 corridor and had rolled out some changes to make things more clear for drivers traveling through the area just south of Interstate 295, where some have speculated the driver may have thought he was taking the ramp to transition onto I-295 when in fact he was traveling on the narrower Exit 45 ramp toward South Crater Road.
In a late May interview, VDOT Communications representative Bethanie Glover explained, following a recent safety review at the I-95/Exit 45 corridor, a number of improvements have been made, even though, according to Glover, the signage that was in place before their improvements “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.
Of those changes, new chevron signs to alert drivers to the curve in the exit ramp and larger stop signs were among some of the enhancements made in the area of Exit 45.
In addition, Glover said VDOT has installed, “A sign on I-95 north with the exit number, route number shield, directional arrow, advisory speed and destination of Petersburg,” “An oversized Ramp 25 mph sign” for the Exit 45 off-ramp that leads to Crater Road, and “A sign in the gore area with exit number, route number shield, advisory speed and directional arrow.”
“Safety is always VDOT’s first priority,” Glover said in an interview with The Prince George Journal in May. “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 attempts to reach Chow’s attorney were unsuccessful, it is unknown if his defense against the charges will involve any discussions regarding the clarity of signage in the area of Exit 45 near I-295.
Involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of ten years behind bars, with a minimum of a year of incarceration required, if convicted.
As of this report, no court date has been set for Chow’s next appearance as the Commonwealth prepares to present their case to the grand jury in July.
According to published reports through the Associated Press, Chow and the bus operator, Tao Travel out of Massachusetts are both facing a $10 million lawsuit from a passenger on the bus who suffered back injuries that required surgery, accusing those named of negligence in maintenance, operations, and other aspects of their business.