PORTLAND, Ore. — Two survivors of an Eastern Oregon tour bus crash that killed nine passengers allege in a lawsuit that the driver was tired, didn't heed warnings and was going too fast on a road with patches of snow and ice.
Attorney Charles Herrmann filed the suit against Mi Joo Tour & Travel late Sunday in Pierce County, Wash., on behalf of two South Korean exchange students who were among the 38 people injured in the Dec. 30 crash.
The complaint says the bus driver doubled as a tour guide and worked at least 90 hours without relief over the first eight days of the nine-day tour package, a violation of U.S. regulations that limit drivers to 70 hours in an eight-day span.
"I've got it from the witnesses, I've got it from the schedule and I've got it from the mileage," Herrmann said Monday. "Put it all together and it's quite clear."
The trip started in Vancouver, British Columbia, and went through Southern California, Las Vegas and Grand Canyon National Park before heading north to Boise, Idaho. On the ninth and final day of the tour, the bus departed a Boise hotel at 7:30 a.m. and traveled 203 miles in a little more than three hours before plunging through a guardrail and 200 feet down an embankment.
The Oregon State Police and National Transportation Safety Board have yet to say what caused the crash of Interstate 84 east of Pendleton. The crash happened during a cold, overcast morning on a flat and straight stretch of the highway, just before an infamous downgrade known as Cabbage Hill.
A truck had applied sand to the icy road a few hours before the crash and was behind the bus making another run when tragedy struck.
The posted speed limit is 65 mph for cars and 55 mph for trucks and buses. Police have not said how fast the bus was traveling or if driver fatigue was an issue.
Herrmann said the driver was going "just too fast for the ice and the snow and the fog," and not necessarily exceeding the speed limit. The lawsuit states that signs in eastern Oregon warned of dangerous conditions. But a state Department of Transportation spokesman said the last reader board the driver would have seen before the crash warned motorists to stay sober. There was a warning about icy conditions about a mile after the crash site, said the spokesman, Tom Strandberg.
An employee at the Vancouver-based travel company referred questions to an attorney who didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. The driver, Haeng-Kyu Hwang of Vancouver, is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Herrmann filed the suit on behalf of 16-year-old Jong-Hyun Chae and 15-year-old Seong-Jun An, foreign exchange students from South Korea who are studying in Tacoma, Wash. An fainted and Chae was knocked unconscious during the crash, according to the suit, and both were hospitalized for about eight hours.
The lawsuit does not request a specific dollar amount, and Herrmann said the extent of the injuries, including psychological, remains unknown.
Herrmann said he is attempting to represent additional crash victims, many of whom are Korean.