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Driver in deadly tour bus crash near Utah’s Bryce Canyon was on his first trip for company, officials say

SHARE Driver in deadly tour bus crash near Utah’s Bryce Canyon was on his first trip for company, officials say

Utah Highway Patrol troopers investigate a fatal tour bus crash on state Route 12 near Bryce Canyon National Park on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. At least four people were killed and dozens more injured when the bus crashed.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

RICHFIELD — The driver of a tour bus that crashed Friday near Bryce Canyon National Park — killing four and injuring multiple others — was on his first trip for the company, according to federal crash investigators.

But answers about what might have caused the crash remained far off, National Transportation Safety Board officials said in a news conference Sunday in Richfield.

“Our process is thorough but lengthy, and we expect to complete this investigation in about 12 to 24 months,” said Pete Kotowski, investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board.

A preliminary report is expected in the coming weeks, he said.

On Friday, the bus carrying Chinese tourists crashed and rolled on state Route 12 near Red Canyon about 11:15 a.m. The Utah Highway Patrol said 31 people, including the driver, were on board.

It appeared that the bus drifted off the right side of the road, UHP Sgt. Nick Street said Friday. The driver then overcorrected, causing the bus to fishtail and roll over. The bus rolled into a guardrail and landed on its wheels, he said.

Four people were declared dead at the scene. They were identified as Ling Geng, 68; Xiuyun Chen, 67; Zhang Caiyu, 62; and ZhongLiang Qiu, 65. All four were from Shanghai, China.

As of last report, 12 others remained hospitalized in conditions ranging from serious to critical.

The driver, also injured in the crash, had been released from the hospital and returned to California, Kotowski said.

The driver had recently been hired by the California-based company, America Shengjia. Investigators had traveled to California to look further into his medical and driving history, and were working to set up an interview with him, according to Kotowski.

The UHP took blood samples from the driver after the crash, Kotowski said, and officials were awaiting results. They also had information about his driving history that was “awaiting verification.”

Investigators are also looking into the roadway and marks left behind during the crash, highway construction and maintenance, signage, grades, slopes and guardrails, Kotowski said.

The freightliner bus had been built in 2017 and was considered midsize, he said. The agency was looking at the bus’s safety features and where occupants were sitting, and what happened to them when the crash occurred.

Kotowski said although the bus had seat belts, some weren’t wearing them at the time of the crash.

The federal investigators are also delving into the tour bus company’s background, safety and hiring practices. Kotowski said the company so far has complied with investigators and met their requests.