An El Monte man who was driving a minibus to the Grand Canyon Sky Walk when it rolled over on a desolate highway, killing two Chinese tourists and injuring eight others in the fall of 2010, admitted Monday that he was driving too fast.
Zhi Lu told a Los Angeles Superior Court jury that he was traveling about 40-50 mph. He said he did not see a sign before a curve that called for a reduction in top speed from 55 mph to 35 mph, but did recall that the minibus struck one of several signs that were posted with arrows warning motorists of the bend.
Lu testified that only he and a Chinese-American tour guide seated behind him had seatbelts and that both of them walked away uninjured.
Lu’s testimony came on the second day of the trial of a lawsuit brought in September 2012 by 19 plaintiffs who allege the casualties would have been fewer had Carson-based bus dealer BusWest spent about $170 to put seatbelts in the passenger seats in the 2006 Starcraft bus, which is similar in size to vehicles commonly used to shuttle passengers from parking lots in amusement parks.
BusWest attorneys maintain that fault for the accident lies with Lu and his employer, Industry-based TBE International Inc., which bought the van from BusWest in March 2008.
Lu told jurors that he and the tourists arrived in Las Vegas from Los Angeles on Oct. 16, 2010, and that the passengers spent the night at the Riviera Hotel. He said he picked them all up the next morning for a trip to the Grand Canyon.
According to the lawsuit, the accident occurred about 8:05 a.m. Oct. 17, 2010, on a sharp curve along what is locally known as Pierce Ferry Road, which is just of U.S. Highway 93 in Arizona.
“I felt that the vehicle was leaning toward the side of the road,” Lu said, testifying with the help of a Mandarin-language interpreter. “The vehicle flipped and came back on its wheels.”
Lu said some passengers were ejected through windows.
“After the vehicle made a flip, some people were swinging out of the vehicle,” he said.
Asked by plaintiffs’ attorney David Lira to describe the demeanor of the passengers, Lu replied, “At the time, I was in shock. “I don’t recall what was their expression.”
Lu said he tried to help the tourists on the ground outside, where glass from broken vehicle windows was scattered.
“The first thing I did after I got out of the vehicle was I tried to help the passengers up,” he said. “This lady was not doing good in her lower back and so I tried supporting her.”
The Chinese-American tour guide called for emergency help, which arrived in about 10 to 20 minutes, Lu said. A second tour guide, 54-year-old Rong Xiang Cheng, was escorting the passengers on a nationwide trip and was among those seriously hurt, Lira said.
One of the plaintiffs who survived being ejected from the minibus, 40- year-old Han Jie Wu, told jurors that she has been suicidal and contemplated divorce since the accident. She said she remembers little about the trip and nothing about the crash.
Wu testified she has experienced seizures and double-vision since being hurt. She also said her personality has changed.
“Before the accident, I was very positive, outgoing,” she said. “Now I feel down and I sometimes would have a temper.”
Questioned by one of her attorneys, John Girardi, Wu said she has thought about taking her own life because she can no longer perform her job in the civil engineering field with the skill she once did. She said her work before being injured included designing freeways in the province in China where she lives.
“Before I was a successful woman in other people’s eyes,” she said. “However, now I’m changed to be like this.”
Girardi displayed for jurors paintings of flowers that Wu, who also is an artist, sketched prior to the accident. She said she once sold original work at art shows, but now presents only copies of what she has previously drawn because she does not have the inspiration to come up with something new.
Wu said she talked to her husband, Hai Cha Pan, about a possible divorce.
“I don’t want my condition to affect his life,” she said.
Pan said he did not want to end their marriage, Wu said. But she says she also struggles to control her temper with her son, which she said she regrets because he is a teenager who needs her guidance.
The defense attorneys’ court papers state that TBE, owner Betti Chi, Starcraft and its parent company, Forest River Inc., settled with the plaintiffs before trial for a collective total of $8.25 million.
— City News Service