Traces of cocaine and marijuana were found in blood and urine samples taken from the driver of a double-decker bus that crashed into an overpass on the George Washington Parkway in April, killing one passenger and injuring 32, federal safety officials said yesterday.
James C. Blue, 30, had used cocaine as recently as two to three hours before the accident, according to a report released yesterday by the National Transportation Safety Board, which cited drug use among the causes of the accident.
The safety board also found that Blue's Virginia driver's license did not permit him to operate a bus and that his driving privileges had been suspended in Maryland and North Carolina for violations committed in those states.
In addition, the board blamed the National Park Service, which oversees the parkway, for failing to provide adequate lighting or signs that might have alerted the driver to the low bridge clearance.
The London-style bus, which was carrying tourists from Massachusetts, was traveling to Mount Vernon when it crashed into the Alexandria Avenue overpass, shearing off the roof. Marie Bowie, 73, was fatally injured in the April 4 accident.
At the time, there was no indication of drug use. A blood test conducted soon after the accident showed no evidence of illegal drugs, and the driver pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of failing to control his vehicle and driving without a chauffer's license. He was fined $30.
The safety board, however, using more sophisticated screening methods, found evidence of recent cocaine use, as well as byproducts of marijuana and valium.
Ralph Webb, president of Spirit of 76 Tours, which owned the bus, said he was shocked by the drug test results and had not been aware of the license suspensions. "We do a background check," he said. "It was total deception."
Blue could not be reached for comment last night.