Sky bus driver guilty of SE Queens deaths

By Joe Anuta

A Flushing driver who fell asleep at the wheel of a tour bus in Virginia was found guilty last Thursday of causing the deaths of four passengers.

Kin Yu Cheung faces up to 40 years behind bars at his Jan. 23 sentencing after he nodded off while transporting nearly 60 passengers aboard a Sky Express Bus Co. bus in May 2011, according to Caroline County District Court, which is located near Richmond, Va.

The bus, bound for Chinatown in Manhattan, veered off to the right-hand shoulder of I-95 near Richmond, Va., and overturned, killing four people and injuring a host of others.

Caroline County Circuit Judge Joseph Ellis told Cheung that his conduct was “so gross and wanton” that he had no choice but to find Cheung guilty, according to the Charlotte Observer. Each of the four counts of involuntary manslaughter, which correspond to the four people killed, carries a maximum charge of 10 years in prison.

Two out of the four passengers who died were from southeast Queens. Karen Blyden-Decastro, 46, of Cambria Heights, and Josefa Torres, 78, of Jamaica, both perished in the crash.

Many of the remaining passengers were taken to area hospitals and treated for various injuries.

Sky Express Bus Co. was initially shut down by the federal government after the crash, but the company continued to sell tickets anyway, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation official. The company was eventually stopped by a cease-and-desist order, the department said.

A report released last year by the National Transportation Safety Board showed that discount buses, also known as curbside carriers, run by companies like Sky Express Bus Co. to and from hubs including Chinatown in Manhattan and Flushing in Queens, are seven times more likely to be involved in an accident than those managed by a traditional bus operator.

The report cited driver fatigue as an ongoing concern for bargain carriers.

The crash caused by Cheung was not the only accident involving curbside carriers in recent years nor was it the most deadly.

In March 2011, three separate bus crashes raised eyebrows at DOT.

First, 14 passengers on a Chinatown-bound bus were killed near the border of Connecticut and New York when the driver also allegedly fell asleep at the wheel, according to investigators.

Then two days later, a Forest Hills man was killed in New Jersey after he crashed the tour bus he was driving from Chinatown to Pennsylvania.

Later in March, 23 people on board a bus operated by a Flushing company were injured in a crash in New Hampshire.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.