Photo/Illutration The accident site in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, on Jan. 15, 2016 (Kayoko Sekiguchi)

NAGANO–-The Nagano District Court sentenced a bus company president and his former employee to prison here on June 8 for their responsibility in a fatal 2016 accident in Karuizawa that killed 15 people and injured 26.

Presiding Judge Hiroshi Ono handed down a three-year sentence to Misaku Takahashi, the president of ESP, a Tokyo-based bus operator, and a four-year sentence to Tsuyoshi Arai, a former manager in charge of the bus that caused the accident.

Prosecutors had demanded a five-year prison term for each.

The ski tour bus was traveling on National Route 18 near the border between Nagano and Gunma prefectures in the early hours of Jan. 15, 2016, when it hit a guardrail on a downhill curve and tumbled down a slope. The vehicle was traveling at 96 kph at the time.

Among the 15 people killed were the two drivers.

In court, the prosecutors argued that the defendants had failed to check the driver’s driving skills despite the concerns expressed by the driver himself.

They said that the defendants didn’t provide the driver with the necessary training even though they knew the potential for a fatal accident.

As a result, the prosecutors concluded, the driver did not have the skill to control the bus, leading to the disaster.

The defendants argued that the driver had enough proficiency but it was impossible to foresee that he would fail to apply the brakes.

Takahashi said managing drivers and coordinating timetables were Arai’s job.

On the other hand, Arai argued that it was not his job to check the driver’s proficiency. That should have been done by other drivers, he said.