The president of a bus company and another executive charged with professional negligence resulting in death and injury went on trial on Thursday over a fatal bus crash that claimed the lives of 13 passengers and two drivers in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, on Jan 15, 2016.
Misaku Takahashi, 60, president of Tokyo-based bus company ESP, and Tsuyoshi Arai, 53, operations manager, entered a plea of not guilty during the opening session at the Nagano District Court, Fuji TV reported. Their lawyers said they could not have foreseen the accident.
The charter bus from Tokyo careened off a road at 2 a.m. while traveling downhill in Karuizawa, killing 13 students, the 65-year-old driver, Hiroshi Tsuchiya, and a relief driver. Twenty-six other students were injured.
A transport ministry commission that investigated the accident pinned the blame squarely on the driver, saying he lost control of the bus after allowing it to gain speed by driving downhill with hardly any application of the brakes. Prosecutors say Tsuchiya was not an experienced large bus driver and that Takahashi and Arai were negligent for not ensuring that he was qualified to drive large buses.
Based on its findings from a simulated crash and roadside camera footage, the commission concluded that the bus was traveling downhill for about one kilometer with hardly any engine or foot braking. The bus eventually went off the road after failing to negotiate a left curve at a speed of 95 km per hour, far above the speed limit in the area.
The commission said in a report that ESP increased the risk of accidents involving its drivers by not ordering them to take regular health checks or conducting roll calls before they set off.
While the commission called for the transport ministry to increase its checks on bus operators, the ministry has already toughened its supervision of charter bus operators, now requiring them to renew their business permits every five years.© Japan Today