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2011 U.S. report criticized B.C. tour firm involved in fatal Dec. 30 crash

A piece of heavy equipment strains to move a bus which plummeted down an embankment in rural eastern Oregon on Dec. 30, 2012, killing nine.

Randy L. Rasmussen/The Canadian Press

U.S. regulators flagged shortcomings in inspection routines and driver testing in two reviews of Mi Joo Tour and Travel, a B.C.-based company involved in a Dec. 30 crash in Oregon that killed nine people.

Thirty-eight people, including the driver, were injured in the crash. Some passengers were ejected from the bus, which was en route from Las Vegas to Vancouver, as it hurtled down a highway embankment.

Deficiencies in a 2011 review included "failing to inspect pushout windows, emergency doors and emergency marking lights in buses at least every 90 days" and "failing to have a means of indicating the nature and due date of the various inspection and maintenance operations to be performed."

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The 2011 review also found shortcomings in the company's drug and alcohol testing programs for drivers, including a "critical" violation for "using a driver before the motor carrier has received a negative pre-employment controlled substance test result."

"I explained that these were serious violations and that the carrier needed to correct them as soon as possible," an investigator wrote in notes included in the report. "In the safety management cycle, the carrier failed to have any policies or procedures in place to ensure compliance. There is a lack of follow up to ensure various functions are done."

The 2011 review resulted in a "satisfactory" safety rating. The audit was a followup to a report done in 2010 that led to a "conditional" rating for Mi Joo due to several deficiencies in relation to driver testing and inspection regulations.

The compliance reviews were conducted by the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and obtained through a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

Mi Joo had not been involved in any reportable accidents under U.S. regulations for the two years preceding the crash that occurred near Pendleton, Ore., on Dec. 30.

At about 10:30 a.m. that day, the bus, operated by Mi Joo and carrying 47 people, left the road and tumbled down an embankment, rolling at least once and coming to rest upright at the bottom of a snow-covered slope.

Passengers came from South Korea, B.C., Washington State and other parts of the U.S. The bus was on a tour of western U.S. states.

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The National Transportation Safety Board and Oregon State Police are investigating the cause of the crash, which occurred on a stretch of Interstate 84, east of Pendleton, known as Deadman Pass.

Mi Joo has kept a low profile since the accident. On Jan. 2, in a statement released through a lawyer, the company expressed its "deepest sympathy and condolences to those impacted by the tragic events" and said it would be temporarily closed.

A person who answered the phone Monday at Mi Joo's head office referred questions to the company's lawyer, who was not immediately available for comment.

On Jan. 6, the guardian of two young men who survived the crash filed a lawsuit against Mi Joo Tour, alleging the driver ignored signs that warned of dangerous road conditions and failed to slow down "while on a descending and winding highway laden with fog, snow and black ice."

The lawsuit alleges that bus driver Haeng-Kyu Hwang, a deacon at Kwanglim Church in Surrey, B.C., "did all of the driving through the entire trip as well as performed tour guide duties for all of his passengers including these boys." The suit also alleges that he was on duty for 12 to 14 hours a day in contravention of regulations.

U.S. authorities have said the investigation into the crash could take several weeks.

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