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Cedar City • A tour van driver who took responsibility for the deaths of three Japanese tourists last year was taken to the Iron County Jail on Friday after being sentenced on charges that he operated the bus negligently while under the influence of drugs.
A remorseful Yasushi Mikuni, 27, sobbed throughout the proceedings before 5th District Judge G. Michael Westfall in Cedar City and said he was ashamed.
"I have destroyed the happiness of those who live commendable lives," Mikuni told the court, crowded with reporters from Japan, where the case generated intense interest.
Westfall sentenced Mikuni to a year in jail and three years' probation. He also fined Mikuni $5,000 on each of the three counts to which he had earlier pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors. Mikuni was ordered to pay restitution to the victims and their families in an amount to be determined later.
As part of his probation, Mikuni must write letters of apology to victims or their families.
Mikuni was driving 13 Japanese tourists from Las Vegas to Bryce Canyon National Park on Aug. 9, 2010, when the small bus rolled just north of Cedar City on Interstate 15. In addition to three deaths, 10 others were injured.
Mikuni had traces of marijuana in his system from smoking the night before, according to prosecutors. He admitted to also being sleep deprived and using energy drinks and nicotine gum to stay awake.
Two civil lawsuits have been filed against Mikuni, one of which also names Utah companies Canyon Transportation Inc. and Western Leisure Inc., along with a Japanese travel agency.
"Every day I regret the life I live," Mikuni said in a statement read by an interpreter Friday. He said he wonders nearly every day why he survived the accident. "I have caused irreparable damage," he said.
One of his two attorneys, Garrett Ogata, said his client was willing to accept whatever sentence he received and has been cooperative with investigators.
At one point, about a month after the accident, Ogata told Westfall that Mikuni had been visited by his father from Japan and the pair went to the accident site in the median of I-15 to pray for the victims.
Ogata said he has never had a client who has shown such sincere contrition.
"He [Mikuni] has taken control and responsibility for what happened and put it on his shoulders," said Ogata.