The 54-year-old driver of a Vancouver-bound tour bus that crashed in Oregon killing nine people has been questioned by police and released to return home to British Columbia, although U.S. authorities expect they will be able to get to him if charges are laid in the case.
The Oregon State Police have identified Haeng Kyu Hwang as the driver of the bus operated by Vancouver-based Mi Joo Tour & Travel. On Sunday morning, the 1998 Prevost motorcoach was en route to B.C. after a nine-day tour in Las Vegas when it veered off an icy stretch of Interstate 84 near Pendleton, and slid 60 metres down an embankment, rolling over at least once in the process.
“We have interviewed him initially. We’ll do any follow-ups as needed,” Lieutenant Gregg Hastings said Tuesday, adding it’s too early to say whether any “enforcement action” will be taken in the matter because the investigation is ongoing.
It will take at least a month or longer before police can forward an overview on the case to the regional district attorney’s office for possible further action. Earlier Tuesday, the state police identified Dale Osborn, 57, of the community of Spanway, Wash., near Tacoma as one of the deceased, The police said, however, that the identities of the other victims – three males and five females – would be released in due course as the state medical examiner struggles to confirm their names. “Trauma injuries” appear to be among the issues complicating the process, according to a police statement.
There were 47 passengers on the bus from locations ranging from Vancouver to a number of U.S. cities. However, most held passports from Korea. Of the nine deceased, eight were of Asian descent, according to the Oregon police.
Thirty-eight were injured, including Mr. Osborn’s 65-year-old wife, Darlene, who remains in hospital in Pendleton.
Lt. Hastings said he did not know whether Mr. Hwang had remained in the United States or headed home to Canada.
“That won’t be an issue. We know where he will be. We have contacts with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police if we need to make any additional contacts or need to reinterview him.”
He said he did not think it would be a problem to have Mr. Hwang brought back to the United States should that be necessary.
The lieutenant also said the police have had contacts with the tour operator, and expects to have further contacts “in the future,” but declined to be more specific. Mi Joo’s downtown Vancouver office was closed Tuesday, and the company did not return numerous calls to its head office in Coquitlam.
CTV British Columbia identified Mr. Hwang as a deacon at the Kwanglim Church in Surrey, reporting that members of the congregation are “in shock and disbelief” over the tragedy. There was no answer to multiple calls to the church.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has also launched an investigation into the accident.
Bhulho Choi, vice-counsel for the Korean consulate in Seattle, said his office is working to facilitate the return home of survivors of the crash, as well as bringing family members of the deceased to the United States.