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Feds Take Action Against Sky Express; Deadly Crash Latest In String Of Problems

SkyExpress500.jpg
SkyExpress bus station in east Charlotte.

http://66.225.205.104/0531SkyExpress.mp3

Virginia State Police blame driver fatigue for yesterday's deadly crash of a North Carolina bus. Four people died and many more were injured when their Sky Express bus overturned on I-95 north of Richmond, Va. Sky Express is based in Charlotte. Late Tuesday, the Department of Transportation issued an order that prohibits Sky Express from transporting passengers across state lines. As WFAE's Lisa Miller reports, federal regulators had allowed the company to operate despite a lengthy list of federal safety violations. Late Monday night, a Sky Express bus left Greensboro bound for New York's Chinatown. Around 5 a.m. Tuesday it ran off I-95 near Richmond, overturned and ended up resting on its roof. Four people died and the rest of the 54 passengers have injuries that range from minor to serious. Police have charged the driver with reckless driving. Sky Express has racked up dozens of federal inspection violations over the past two years, including 46 for Fatigued Driving. This covers violations such as drivers not logging hours, some falsely reporting them, and a few pulling 10 or 15 hour stints behind the wheel. In this category, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ranks Sky Express worse than 86.2 percent of all passenger bus companies. But it scores worse in the category of Driver Fitness. On a scale of 0-to-100 with 100 being the worst, Sky Express has a percentile rank of 99.7. The agency has cited the company several times because drivers didn't speak English. A few drivers didn't have medical certification and there was even one case in which a driver didn't have a commercial driver's license. "You can't help but wonder why that company was allowed to operate. I look at this as really a failure of government. They should've been shut down a long time ago," says a frustrated Peter Pantuso of the American Bus Association. Pantuso says the federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration needs to take action against bus companies with bad safety records. "Companies like this (Sky Express) that operate outside of the margins of safety are not only killing people, but obviously they're pulling down the reputation of the industry. We think they should be taken off the road." Before Tuesday's crash, the Motor Carrier Safety Administration has listed Sky Express as a high priority for intervention. The company has been registered in North Carolina since late 2004. It offers low cost overnight trips to New York. Sky Express did not return phone calls. Its bus station is just off Independence Boulevard, in a former fast food restaurant. The building was quiet Tuesday afternoon. The lights were off and the doors locked. Three white buses sat outside, one of them with a smashed up rear view window. A few of the windows were propped open with plastic bottles.