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Bus dispatcher pleads ‘not guilty’ following deadly Interstate 95 crash

Zhao Chen

CAROLINE COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) – Zhao Jian Chen, the bus dispatcher accused of forcing a bus driver to continue on his route despite complaining of fatigue, was arraigned in Caroline court on involuntary manslaughter charges.

Last May that bus ran off Interstate 95 while driving from North Carolina to New York, killing four passengers. [WEB EXTRA: New York cracking down on fraudulent bus drivers]

Sam Brock reported the following information from today’s arraignment:

  • Zhao appeared in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs, which were removed at the beginning of the proceedings.
  • No members of his family were in attendance, but he did have a translator and defense attorney Ted Bruns
  • There was a very clear language barrier- the judge had to explain Zhao his rights very slowly so that the interpreter could convey everything being said; at times it held up the flow of the hearing
  • Zhao, through his lawyer, ultimately plead ‘not guilty’ to the four counts of involuntary manslaughter, one for each death in the bus crash
  • The lawyer elected for a trial by jury
  • Zhao had very little to say through his translator, other than the fact that he might have a hard time finding the physical addresses of his witnesses for summons; he told the judge he has their cell phone numbers and names
  • Zhao also told the judge he plans to do all he can to cooperate with his attorney; he said he has no drugs or alcohol in his system
  • Trial will be two days long – June 18and 19
  • Zhao is currently being held without bond; a bond hearing is expected, but Bruns said he’ll have to consult with members of his team and translators outside of Virginia before he files a date for a hearing
  • There seemed to be some dispute as to when the 5-month window for Zhao’s speedy trial by jury should start; he was extradited from North Carolina and placed into Virginia jurisdiction by March 8
  • The judge issued a GAG ORDER, effective immediately, that precludes members of the defense, the prosecution and translators from commenting to the media about anything
  • The gag order was issued upon the request of Bruns, who told the judge that he had read many comments from Commonwealth’s Attorney Tony Spencer regarding Zhao’s culpability/citizenship status/ flight risk, and thought any more comments would jeopardize the impartiality of jury selection and the trial
  • Spencer agreed to join the motion for the gag order

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