Dispatcher in deadly bus crash appears in court

Posted at 6:03 PM, Mar 14, 2012
and last updated 2012-03-15 09:26:33-04

CAROLINE COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) - The second person facing charges in last year’s deadly tour bus crash on Interstate 95 in Caroline County appeared in court Wednesday morning for the first time.

Zhao Jian Chen is the dispatcher prosecutors say forced driver Kin Yiu Cheung to drive a Sky Express tour bus from North Carolina to New York last May, even though he was too tired to drive. [WEB EXTRA: New York cracking down on fraudulent bus drivers]

Speaking very little English, Chen was given an interpreter. He met her for the first time just minutes before he heard the judge announce charges against him.

In Mandarin, and through the interpreter,  Chen told the judge “I’m not even sure what’s going on.” He appeared confused at times as Judge Ellis relayed the court process to the translator.

But ultimately when the judge asked, Chen told him he understood the charges.

“I don’t know anything. I was just doing my work,” Chen told the judge

Chen was without counsel, but prosecutor Tony Spencer told the judge a Richmond attorney, Ted Bruns, had made contact with the Caroline County Commonwealth Attorney’s office.

Spencer said Bruns told him he is in the process of being detained to represent Chen and that things would be finalized this week.

Spencer said Chen and Cheung are facing four counts of involuntary manslaughter, one charge for passenger who died in the crash.

“Mr. Chen ordered Mr. Cheung to drive even when Mr. Cheung said 'I’m too tired to drive.' Mr. Chen essentially said 'you have to, or you’re fired,'" said Spencer. "He is an accessory before the fact. Under Virginia law, an accessory is as liable for the crime as the person who actually committed it."

The prosecutor told the judge Chen should stay in jail without bond.

He told CBS 6 News' Shelby Brown that he needs to learn more about Chen and his immigration status.

“I just don’t know enough about him," said Spencer. "I know he was found in another state. I know we had to extradite him. I know the charges against him are very serious charges. He doesn’t speak English. I really would want to find out his immigration status to see what incentive he has not to flee."

Zhao Jian Chen goes back to Caroline County Circuit Court on March 21 for an arraignment and bond motion.

Spencer said that will happen if Bruns is retained this week as Chen’s attorney. If not, that court proceeding will be a status hearing for Chen to tell the judge what lawyer will represent him.

As for the tour bus driver, Kin Yiu Cheung, he goes to court on May 2. That court proceeding will be to determine his trial date.

Both men will be tried separately.

Stay with CBS 6 News and refresh for continuing coverage of these cases.