The driver involved in a horrific 2011 bus crash on a Bronx, New York, highway that left 15 people dead and several others injured is on trial facing manslaughter charges.
A prosecutor told jurors that Ophadell Williams, 41, was a professional bus driver with years of experience and should have known better than to drive a busload of passengers while in a fatigued state.
The March 12, 2011, crash happened on Interstate 95 at daybreak as Mr. Williams was driving a busload of passengers to Manhattan’s Chinatown from the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Conn. The bus crashed just feet from a road sign that read: “Welcome to the Bronx.”
Mr. Williams had dropped off a load of passengers at the Eastern Connecticut casino around 11 p.m. the night before. He told investigators that he napped in the casino parking lot until he was called to pick up a New York-bound group of passengers from the casino at 3 a.m.
Mr. Williams told authorities that after the bus crossed into the Bronx from Westchester County, a passing tractor trailer clipped the bus and caused him to lose control of the vehicle.
Accounts given by the surviving bus passengers, however, didn’t match up to Mr. Williams’ version. They reported that the bus had swerved several times, often driving over the rumble strips that warn drivers they are at risk of leaving the road. The passengers, en route to New York’s Chinatown where they lived and worked, told police they were afraid that the driver was falling asleep or that something was distracting him.
In June, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the crash was a “perfect storm” of circumstances, including driver fatigue, speed, poor company oversight, and poor highway design.
“At the scene lay 13 people in a makeshift morgue, covered up, pulled from the wreckage,” Assistant District Attorney Gary Weil said. “They died instantly, in a horrific crash caused by the reckless and criminally negligent behavior of that man – Ophadell Williams.”
In addition to the 13 people who died on the highway, two others succumbed to their injuries at the hospital. Fifteen others were injured in the crash, some of them severely. Prosecutors described in graphic detail how passengers lost limbs and other body parts.
Mr. Williams’ attorney, however, painted a completely different picture of the driver, telling the court his client was a hero for helping remove injured passengers from the wreckage despite his own injuries. He said that it was wrong to press criminal charges on the man because any driver could potentially find himself in the same situation. He also compared Mr. Williams’ job to firefighters, police officers, nurses, and others who have to put in long early morning hours.
Williams drove for World Wide Tours of Greater New York, a discount bus company that carried passengers around the Northeast, sometimes for as little as a dollar. After the fatal crash, federal regulators shut down the company, citing numerous safety violations. Even though Mr. Williams failed to turn in any federally mandated Hours of Service (HOS) records to World Wide Tours, the company never took disciplinary action and won’t be facing any criminal charges like Mr. Williams.