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Bus company in fatal Oregon crash had history of DOT violations

By Mike M. Ahlers
updated 9:29 PM EST, Fri January 4, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mi Joo Tour & Travel was cited for violations in 2010 and 2011, records show
  • There was no sign of that on the government website where information is posted
  • Nine passengers were killed and 38 were injured when the bus skidded off a highway

(CNN) -- The Canadian tour bus company involved in last weekend's fatal crash in Oregon was cited for serious violations of motor coach rules during U.S. reviews in 2010 and 2011, according to records obtained by CNN.

But nothing on the Department of Transportation's website for the public indicated there were previous problems with the bus line. Instead, the site reflected only its "satisfactory" rating from the department's most recent review, in 2011.

Mi Joo Tour & Travel Ltd., based in Vancouver, was cited for 11 violations in 2010 and eight violations in 2011, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records. The Transportation Department released the records Friday to CNN in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Among the violations were failure to implement driver alcohol- and drug-testing programs, failure to investigate drivers' backgrounds, and failure to regularly inspect push-out windows, emergency doors and emergency lights.

On Sunday, nine passengers were killed and 38 were injured when a Mi Joo bus skidded on ice on Interstate 84 near Pendleton, Oregon, crashed though a guardrail and tumbled down a steep embankment. The bus was returning to Vancouver, British Columbia, from Las Vegas, police said.

The driver was treated and released, and the cause of the crash is under investigation. Any decision on charges will be made after Oregon State Police, the lead agency in the investigation, consults with the district attorney, said state police Lt. Gregg Hastings.

Citing the ongoing investigation, he would not comment on whether the driver had been tested for drugs and alcohol.

CNN could not reach officials with Mi Joo, which caters to Korean tourists. But in a recorded message, the company expressed condolences for the crash victims, and said the business is temporarily closed. The recording says the company is working with authorities investigating the accident and is taking steps to ease the suffering of those affected.

According to the documents, Mi Joo was given a "conditional" safety rating in July of 2010 during a Transportation Department compliance review. The review lists 11 failings. It labeled its failure to implement a drug- and alcohol-testing program "acute" and ordered corrective action to be taken. The records say company officials "promised to make all the necessary corrections."

A second compliance review in August 2011 lists eight violations, and gave a proposed safety rating of "satisfactory." The violations included failing to conduct required driver alcohol testing, and failing to inspect emergency equipment.

"These are not some small, ticky-tack violations," said Dan Ronan, spokesman for the American Bus Association. "These are pretty serious violations."

Ronan said the compliance reviews raise questions about both the Mi Joo bus company and the FMCSA regulators.

"They (the FMCSA) let them off the hook," Ronan said. Mi Joo had 19 violations in a 13-month period, but the company still earned a "satisfactory" rating. "It really cheapens the rating," he said.

"FMCSA has a chance to do something pretty big here in terms of shutting them down and they passed on it," Ronan said.

Mi Joo is not a member of the bus association.

Duane DeBruyne, a spokesman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said it launched a new compliance review upon learning about the December 30 crash.

"Whenever there's a significant crash, it's standard procedure that we'll send investigators to do a compliance review," and that is provided to the National Transportation Safety Board "to provide as full a picture as possible of all the factors that may or may not be involved," DeBruyne said.

He declined to discuss the failure of the department's website to include any mention of Mi Joo's earlier problems, citing the safety board's investigation.

The SAFER system -- for Safety and Fitness Electronic Records -- is designed to give travelers an easy way to check on bus operators' safety records when making travel decisions.

Records also show Mi Joo's operating authority was revoked in 2008 after the motor carrier agency informed the company that it did not have proof of insurance on file. The license was reinstated after two weeks when the company provided proof that it had the required insurance.

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