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Bus Companies Broke All Sorts of Rules|Before Fatal Accident, Tourist Family Says

SALT LAKE CITY (CN) - Parents say their family vacation became a tragedy when an inexperienced, fatigued driver, mixing caffeinated gum and energy drinks to stay awake, crashed a tour bus, severely injuring them and their daughter and killing their 20-year-old son. Three people died and eight were hurt in the rollover crash.

Hideo and Akemi Hayase, of Japan, say they were on their "dream vacation in the United States" with their children Mariko, 14, and Hiroki, 20, when the accident happened in August 2010.

They booked their tour through defendant Nippon Travel Agency, which contracted with co-defendants Canyon Transportation and Western Leisure, both of Utah, according to the complaint in Salt Lake County Court.

The final defendant, Yasushi Mikuni, 26, was fatigued and using energy drinks and caffeine gum to stay awake as he drove Western Leisure's 15-passenger van from Las Vegas to Bryce Canyon National Park, the Hayases say.

Mikuni, a Japanese resident living in Las Vegas on a student visa, was serving the dual role of driver and tour guide.

"Mikuni had been working as a tour bus driver for less than two months, had received no formal training, and did not have a commercial driver's license," according to the complaint.

"Additionally, the day before the accident, Mikuni had driven a bus for eleven hours and had slept very few hours the night before the accident. Worse, Mikuni admitted to having smoked marijuana frequently, including on two occasions the night before the tour. In fact, Mikuni tested positive for THC, a chemical found in marijuana, in tests conducted immediately following the accident. ...

"Ultimately, Mikuni fell asleep, drifted off the road and wrecked - rolling the van he was driving multiple times. As a direct and foreseeable consequence of the defendants' failures, the Hayases' dream vacation became a nightmare; Hiroki's young and promising life was cut short and Hideo, Akemi and Ariko were severely and permanently injured."

The bus rolled and came to rest upside down on the median, and though he was wearing his seatbelt, Hiroki was thrown from the vehicle. He died; his sister Mariko suffered a broken pelvis.

Their mother, Akemi, has permanently lost the use of her legs.

Three people were killed and eight were injured in the crash, about 4 miles north of Cedar City.

The family says Mikuni was speeding, and "was not wearing corrective lenses, despite being required to do so on his driver's license."

They add that Canyon Transportation was not licensed to operate across state lines, and neither Western Leisure nor Canyon Transportation fulfilled commercial liability insurance requirements.

Poor or nonexistent regulation of small tour bus companies made national headlines this week after a crash on the New Jersey Turnpike killed 15 people on Monday. After that crash, New York authorities took six tour buses out of operation for problems that included steering, missing paperwork and inadequate air brake pressure, according to reports in The New York Times.

And The Wall Street Journal reported that the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates accidents, has long complained that the federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has not done enough to make passengers safe on buses.

The safety board said that five out of six unmet highway safety goals apply to passenger buses, the Journal reported.

The Hayases seek punitive damages for wrongful death, negligence, and negligent hiring and supervision. They are represented by David Jordan with Stoel Rives.

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