LAS VEGAS (CN) - A "fatigued" Grand Canyon tour bus driver fell asleep at the wheel while speeding, injuring his passengers and killing himself, eight people claimed Wednesday in two lawsuits.
Gabrielle Dean, one of seven plaintiffs, claims her 2012 pleasure trip to the Grand Canyon turned into a deadly crash caused by negligence and routine violations of federal transportation laws. Deming Yang filed his complaint separately, also in Clark County Court.
Silver State Coach is the lead defendant in both lawsuits. Dean et al. also sued the estate of the bus driver, Ron Sparks.
The charter bus was to take about 50 passengers from Las Vegas to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and back on Oct. 19, 2012.
People familiar with the trip say it takes about 5 hours each way.
Dean et al. claim the accident investigation revealed that "Sparks routinely and falsely recorded his daily driving time in his federally mandated driving log as exactly 10 hours" on the Las Vegas-Grand Canyon route.
They also claim that accident investigators found that the vehicle's black box data showed the driving time for the Las Vegas-Grand Canyon tour varied greatly, but the tour company's drivers "routinely violated Federal Motor Safety Carrier Administration regulations with regard to driving time and hours of service for passenger-carrying commercial vehicles."
To hide the violations, Dean says, after the accident the tour company "willfully, maliciously and intentionally destroyed relevant evidence, including Sparks' driving logs for at least five of the six months preceding the accident."
Dean and co-plaintiff Marianne Smith, celebrating their civil union honeymoon, were seated nearest to driver Ron Sparks in the right front passenger seat throughout the day, according to their complaint. They say they "noticed Sparks purchased and was consuming throughout the day a large number of energy drinks, such as 'Five Hour Energy' and 'Red Bull.'"
Also, "at several points during the day, commencing that morning and continuing into the evening, Sparks confided in Dean and Smith that he was very fatigued" and other passengers saw Sparks consuming energy drinks "throughout the day and observed him acting fatigued," according to the lawsuit.
During a scheduled fueling stop in Kingman, Ariz., on the return trip that evening, Smith says Sparks told her "that he was so tired he wished Smith could drive the rest of the way back to Las Vegas. He further commented that it was legal for passengers to drink and that he wished he could have a drink" and consumed another energy drink.
After getting back on the highway to Las Vegas, Dean and Smith say Sparks nodded off and the bus drifted toward the side of the road until they both yelled his name and he quickly corrected his steering.
Around 7:50 p.m., they say, Sparks nodded off again as the bus veered toward the right shoulder. They tried to alert Sparks, but "the bus drove off of the road, where it traveled several hundred feet until it struck a deep desert wash, catapulting Sparks out of his seat into the front stairwell" and tossed Dean and Smith out of their seats, according to the complaint.
Smith and Dean say "the bus then continued several hundred feet more over rough terrain, up and embankment and through a fence before coming to a stop."
An investigation showed that Sparks had an energy drink in his pocket and was driving 71 mph in a 65 mph zone, according to the Dean complaint.
News reports indicate the bus was carrying about 50 passengers.
Dean et al. accuse Silver State and Sparks of negligence and joint, severable and vicarious liability. They seek general, special and punitive damages, legal costs with interest and attorney's fees.
They are represented by Ramzy Paul Ladah.
Yang seeks costs of medical care and damages for negligence, common-carrier negligence and vicarious liability.
He is represented by Michael M. Lin.
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