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Reckless Driving Charge To Be Dropped In Fatal Sky Express Bus Crash

BOWLING GREEN, Va. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A reckless driving charge will be dropped against a driver for a discount bus service whose bus crashed on Interstate 95, killing four people and injuring others, a prosecutor said Friday.

Caroline County Commonwealth's Attorney Tony Spencer told The Associated Press ahead of a scheduled court hearing that his office will not prosecute the misdemeanor charge against 37-year-old Kin Yiu Cheung from Flushing, Queens.

Cheung was driving a Sky Express-operated bus headed to Chinatown from North Carolina when it swerved off the road and overturned on I-95 in Virginia on May 31.

Killed were 46-year-old Karen Blyden-Decastro of Cambria Heights, NY, 63-year-old Sie Giok Giang of Philadelphia, 78-year-old Josefa Torres of Jamaica, NY and 25-year-old Denny Estefany Martinez of Jersey City, NJ.

Fifty-four others were injured.

Court records show Cheung admitted to police that he fell asleep at the wheel.

Kin Yiu Cheung
This photo provided by the Virginia State Police shows Kin Yiu Cheung, 37, of Flushing, N.Y. , the driver of a bus that crashed on Interstate 95 early Tuesday, May 31, 2011 in Caroline County, Va. (AP Photo/Virginia State Police)

His attorneys have called the crash a "terrible accident and a tragedy.''

After the crash, the U.S. Department of Transportation shut down North Carolina-based Sky Express for multiple safety violations.

Federal officials then issued a cease-and-desist order against the company after finding it was trying to sell tickets under other names.

Transportation Department officials were in the process of shutting down the company at the time of the crash, but had given Sky Express an extra 10 days to appeal an unsatisfactory safety rating.

A timeline released by the department indicated that without the extension, Sky Express would have ceased operations the weekend before the crash. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has directed the department to stop extending appeals periods for operators found to be unsafe.

According to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records, Sky Express buses had been involved in four crashes with an injury or fatality, it didn't specify which, during a two-year period that ended May 20.

The company also had been cited for 46 violations of drivers being fatigued over that same period, ranking it worse than 86 percent of commercial motor carriers.

SkyExpress also ranked worse than 99.7 percent of similar companies in driver fitness, with 24 violations, 14 of which were for using drivers who lack English-language skills.

In June, Sen. Charles Schumer called on the federal government to post letter grades for discount tour bus companies so consumers will be able to easily see the companies' safety records.

Bus safety information is already public record, but Schumer says a simple letter grade is needed to clarify the record and it must be posted so customers can see it before they buy tickets.

New York State Senate lawmakers also passed legislation that would require criminal background checks of tour bus and charter bus drivers.

The Sky Express in May is just one of many serious or fatal bus crashes that have happened this year throughout the Northeast.

In March, 15 people were killed when a bus scraped along a guard rail, tipped on its side and slammed into a pole along Interstate 95 on the Bronx-Westchester line.

Days later, a chartered bus crashed on the New Jersey Turnpike just beyond Exit 9 in New Brunswick. Two people were killed and five others were injured.

In June, a tour bus headed to Flushing, Queens rear-ended a flatbed tractor-trailer on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, killing the bus driver and injuring dozens of passengers.

Then in July, one person was killed and 30 injured in a crash in Waterloo when a New York City-bound Farr's Coach Lines bus was pulling onto Interstate 90 when it was hit in the rear by a tractor-trailer. Both vehicles burst into flames.

On August 3, police say a charter bus headed to Trenton from upstate New York was going too fast when it crashed and flipped over. Thirty people were hurt including a woman who was pinned underneath the bus.

Then on August 13, a Greyhound bus bound for St. Louis from New York City lost control on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, sending 14 people to the hospital.

The latest happened on August 24. A tour bus driver from Virginia was critically injured when his bus collided with the back of the tractor-trailer on the New Jersey Turnpike.

That bus was carrying 50 passengers en route to Washington, D.C. from Brooklyn.

Cheung is scheduled for trial in January on four felony counts of involuntary manslaughter.

He faces up to 10 years in prison for each count if convicted.

Do you think it's safe to get on a tour bus? Sound off below in our comments section…

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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