The tour company whose Vancouver-bound bus went off an Oregon highway last weekend, killing nine, has announced it is temporarily closing.
"Mi Joo Tours expresses its deepest sympathy and condolences to those impacted by the tragic events recently occurring in Pendleton, Oregon, USA," the company wrote in a statement late Wednesday. " Due to these events, Mi Joo Tours is temporarily closed. Mi Joo Tours is fully co-operating with those authorities investigating the accident and is actively attempting to assist and ease the suffering of those affected by this accident, in particular the injured passengers and their families."
Earlier, a sign posted on the door of the downtown Vancouver office of the company, which offered the vacation trip from Vancouver to Las Vegas, read: "We share in the tremendous grief experienced by all of the survivors and families of the people involved in this terrible tragedy," The statement, in English and Korean, said the company is focused on "assisting and supporting" those affected by the Sunday morning crash.
The office was locked Wednesday and no one was inside. The sign went up on the same day Oregon State Police identified four people killed in the Sunday morning crash that occurred when the bus went off Interstate 84, hurtled down an embankment and rolled over at least once.
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 who were killed, eight were of Asian descent, Oregon police said. Four passengers remain in hospital in Pendleton, police said.
Chul Ho Choi, vice-consul of the Korean consulate in Seattle, said some families had arrived from Korea. While he did not know how many of the casualties were foreign students studying in Vancouver, he noted that some were. One had a Canadian passport but the others were Korean nationals. Mr. Choi said his office had helped make travel arrangements for the families who had come from Korea, and he was assisting some of them organize cremations in Portland, Ore.
"Hopefully it happens today or late tomorrow morning," he said of the planned services.
New details about the company emerged Wednesday. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration revoked Mi Joo's operating status in the United States for two months, between January and March of 2012, over shortcomings in its drug and alcohol testing program for its drivers. Mi Joo paid a fine of $2,000 in relation to that incident.
"On Jan. 23, 2012, their [Mi Joo's] authority to operate in the United States was revoked," FMSCA spokesman Duane DeBruyn said Wednesday. "The company subsequently paid a $2,000 fine and on March 27, 2012, their authority was reinstated to allow them to operate in the United States."
The FMCSA can begin enforcement cases based on compliance reviews, roadside inspections or other investigations.
Mi Joo also paid a $2,000 fine in 2011 for citations related to drug and alcohol regulations. The company paid no fines in any of the three preceding years. A database of closed enforcement cases lists regulations that were involved but provides no other details.
FMCSA records show that Mi Joo has six buses, four drivers and a satisfactory safety rating with no reportable crashes for the past two years.
Oregon police are investigating the accident in terms of possible criminal charges, while the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has two investigators on the scene to see if there are lessons for the transportation sector. "Bus travel is still a very, very safe way to travel compared with driving. Our job is to make things even safer," said Eric Weiss, an agency spokesman in Washington, D.C.
The four victims identified Wednesday were: Youmin Kim, an 11-year-old girl from Korea staying with family in B.C.; 75-year-old Yongho Lee, a woman from Lynwood, Wash.; Oun Hong Jung, 67, and his wife, Joong Wha Kim, 63, residents of Korea who were staying with relatives in Bothell, Wash. Another name was to be released Thursday after next-of-kin notifications, the Oregon State Police said in a statement.
Meanwhile, nine survivors were en route home Wednesday in free rides organized by officials at an Oregon car dealership. The nine were in three vehicles. Roger Barnes, manager of a Ford dealership in Pendleton, said he read about the accident and concluded many people were "stuck" in his Oregon community of La Grande, southeast of Pendleton.
"[I] realized their only way to get home was on a bus," he said. "I know I couldn't imagine getting back on a bus after an ordeal like that."
With a report from Mark Hume