Sky Express dispatcher faces involuntary manslaughter charges

Zhao Jian Chen
Zhao Jian Chen

BOWLING GREEN, VA (WWBT) – The latest man to face charges related to a deadly bus crash in Caroline County went before a judge Wednesday morning.

Former Sky Express dispatcher Zhao Jian Chen, 41, faces four counts of involuntary manslaughter for the role authorities say he played in the I-95 crash.

The vivid images have been replayed countless times since May 31st, 2011. That day, a Sky Express bus tumbled out of control, flipped, and crashed. Four people died. Dozens more were injured, and authorities say Chen was calling the shots.

Prosecutors say Chen, a dispatcher, ordered the bus driver, Kin Yiu Cheung, to operate the bus even after Cheung said he was too tired. Cheung -who, according to court papers, fell asleep at the wheel- was arrested not long after the crash. Chen was arrested in North Carolina last month, almost nine months later.

Chen speaks no English, and at times seemed confused by the American criminal justice system...and even said so to the judge on multiple occasions before the judge cut him off. For example, Chen said through his Mandarin interpreter "I don't know anything. I was just doing my work," and later, "I understand that this was an accident."

Earlier, after the judge urged him not to comment without a lawyer present, Chen said, "I'm not even sure what's going on."

What's "going on", extends beyond the courthouse. The crash led to a major review of discount bus carriers and so-called "China buses" that provide cheap transportation up and down the East coast.

Chen now faces four counts of involuntary manslaughter, as does Cheung, the driver. They each face the possibility of up to forty years in prison, if convicted.

Chen's due back in court next week for his arraignment and bond motion. In the meantime, he's being held without bond.

Prosecutors say a Richmond-based attorney is in talks to represent Chen. As for Cheung, his next hearing is scheduled for early May.

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