Audit finds little record keeping at B.C. company involved in fatal bus crash

VANCOUVER – A British Columbia-based tour operator involved in a fatal bus crash in Oregon failed to monitor how long its drivers were at the wheel and kept poor records on the maintenance of its vehicles, says a safety audit that prompted the province to revoke the company’s licence.

A bus operated by Mi Joo Tour and Travel Ltd. crashed on a wintry highway near Pendleton, Ore., on Dec. 30, killing nine passengers and injuring dozens more. The crash prompted investigations and lawsuits on both sides of the border, including allegations the driver of the bus had worked too many hours without proper rest.

In January, the B.C. government suspended the company’s operating licence, saying a safety audit had identified numerous problems with the company’s record keeping.

The audit, released this week through a freedom-of-information request, identified violations in every category it measured and recommended the company’s National Safety Code safety certificate be cancelled.

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In particular, the report said the company did not keep records tracking its drivers’ time behind the wheel in the previous year.

“There are serious concerns regarding record keeping for hours of service,” said the Jan. 9 audit, posted this week to a government website that catalogues freedom-of-information requests.

“The carrier does not monitor the hours of service and no supporting documents were provided at the time of the audit.”

The audit examined company records in four areas – driver experience, hours of service, vehicle maintenance, and safety practices – and found numerous problems.

In the hours of service category, the company received a “non-compliance” rate of 100 per cent, failing to produce daily driving logs from the previous year. The company didn’t properly monitor its drivers’ work hours to ensure they were within the regulations, the report said.

Under federal regulations, drivers cannot exceed 70 hours of service per week.

Other problems included:

– Vehicle defects were not noted on trip inspection reports.

– Pre-trip inspection reports were not completed.

– Trip inspection reports were not kept for a minimum of three months.

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– Vehicle maintenance reports were not retained for three years.

– The company did not have an adequate safety plan or a vehicle maintenance plan.

The audit ordered the company to make 31 changes. The director of Mi Joo Tours and Travel, Edward Kang, signed the audit on Jan. 14, agreeing to implement those changes by Jan. 23.

Neither Kang nor his company’s lawyer could be reached for comment.

Kang was required to submit a response to the audit by Feb. 28.

The province’s Transportation Ministry said the company responded before that deadline, but the response hasn’t been made public. Mi Joo’s operating licence remains suspended while the government reviews its response, the ministry said.

A company lawyer held a news conference in January denying the driver had worked too many hours and instead blamed black ice.

The crash has triggered at least three lawsuits against the company, one in British Columbia and two filed in Washington state.

Many of the allegations in those lawsuits focus on the length of time the driver had worked without rest, as well as accusations the driver was travelling too fast and ignored warnings about poor road conditions as the bus headed through an area known as Deadman Pass.

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None of the allegations have been tested in court.

The company has yet to respond to the B.C. lawsuit, but filed a statement of defence in one of the American cases at the end of February.

In the 11-page document, the company denies any wrongdoing. Specifically, the company denies the driver ignored warning signs and drove the bus at an unsafe speed.

That case was launched by 74-year-old Eun Sook Uhm of Lynnwood, Wash., who is seeking unspecified damages for both her and her husband, who wasn’t on the bus.

On Jan. 8, the U.S. Department of Transportation ordered the company to stop operating in the United States. Later that month, the department barred two of the company’s drivers from operating commercial vehicles in the country after concluding they represented “imminent hazards” to public safety.

The Oregon State Police is also investigating, but has yet to forward the case to the district attorney for a decision on whether to lay any charges.

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