The long-distance bus involved in a fatal accident Sunday morning on the Kanetsu Expressway in Fujioka, Gunma Prefecture. (Courtesy of The Yomiuri Shimbun)
Seven people were killed Sunday morning after a long-distance bus heading for Tokyo Disneyland crashed into a noise-blocking wall on the Kanetsu Expressway in Fujioka, Gunma Prefecture.
According to local police and fire officials, 45 passengers were aboard the bus when it smashed into the wall on the left side of the expressway near Fujioka Junction at about 4:40 a.m. thirteen passengers were severely injured, and another 25 suffered minor injuries.
Driver Kazan Kono told the Gunma prefectural police he fell asleep at the wheel, the police said. The police are investigating Kono, 43, on suspicion of negligent driving resulting in injury and death.
Kono was also injured in the accident, the police said.
The bus was operated by Rikuen-tai, a company based in Inzai, Chiba Prefecture. According to Rikuen-tai, the bus departed from Kanazawa at about 10 p.m. Saturday and was headed for Tokyo Disneyland in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture.
According to a Rikuen-tai employee, the company comprises its president and five or six employees. Its main business is operating buses on commission from travel agencies, the employee said.
The number of drivers assigned to each bus is decided according to the distance to be traveled, the employee said. Only one driver has been assigned to trips shuttling from Chiba Prefecture to cities such as Kanazawa, Yamagata, Sendai, Nagoya and Niigata.
The president has told drivers to take a 15-minute break every two hours and a 30-minute break every four hours, the employee said.
Another employee said he was scheduled to take over the bus and head for Osaka later Sunday. He was informed about the accident by the president shortly after 6 a.m. The employee said Kono did not appear tired in recent days and had been performing his duties well.
The accident closed the Kanetsu Expressway to Tokyo-bound traffic between the Takasaki and Honjo-Kodama interchanges until noon Sunday. The Kita-Kanto Expressway was also closed to westbound traffic between the Maebashi-Minami Interchange and Takasaki Junction until noon.