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Family demands clarity on VTA retiree’s presumed bus death

SAN JOSE — The family of Benny Cheung, a freshly retired dispatcher for the Valley Transportation Authority who died in a tragic collision March 23, is demanding more information and a clear statement from authorities that Cheung was killed by a bus for the agency he served for 37 years.

Two high-powered personal-injury law firms, Gwilliam Ivary Chiosso Cavalli & Brewer and Habbas & Associates, are representing Cheung’s family and voiced their clients’ frustration about having no definitive answers about his death nearly three weeks after he was found gravely injured on North First Street and Hawthorne Way in San Jose.

Investigators have been working under the theory that Cheung was hit by a VTA bus shortly after he got off the same vehicle, and the transit agency has also acknowledged that likelihood. But the sequence leading to his death has not been formally determined.

“It is clear that our victim was hit by a large vehicle,” attorney Steven Brewer said in a statement. “Sadly, the victim’s body was so badly mangled that the family was unable to have an open casket service for the deceased.”

Attorney Omar Habbas alluded to blood evidence on the bus showing up before Cheung was found lying in the street, and that initial evidence suggests the on-board cameras were not working properly.

The law firms also posed the question of whether the driver was aware that the bus might have hit someone. After the death was reported, a VTA spokeswoman said the driver was taken off duty and was put on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of compulsory drug-screening tests.

“We are frustrated by the delay and really feel for the grieving family who has essentially been kept in the dark as to the status of the investigation,” Habbas said.

VTA referred all questions about the case to San Jose police. Officer Albert Morales said the investigation is ongoing and awaits test results from the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office.

“It’s going to take some time,” Morales said. “We’re actively working on it, and hope to provide some answers and closure as soon as possible.”

Releasing information prior to the completion of the investigation, Morales said, could introduce unsubstantiated details to the family that they would have to retract.

“It’s important that we look at all the information so we can come to an accurate conclusion,” he said.

Brewer acknowledged that any financial claims the family will make against VTA hinges on a completed investigation, but noted that if he and his partners get a sense that the probe is stalling, they are prepared to proceed regardless.

“I’m hopeful that in short order there will be some indications that clearly lay responsibility where it needs to be laid,” Brewer said. “We want to resolve these uncertainties for the family as soon as we can.”