The driver of the tour bus that smashed into a highway sign post on I-95 in the Bronx, killing 15 people and injuring several others in March, has been charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide for each death in the horrific crash.
Ophadell Williams pleaded not guilty Thursday to 15 counts each of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, plus reckless driving, assault and third-degree unlicensed driving. His bail was set at $250,000.
Prosecutors said he was driving recklessly for the entire trip from a Connecticut casino until the bus crashed into the signpost, which sliced it like a knife. They argued one passenger raised his arms to protect his head, and they were torn off.
"He recognized the risk that his conduct posed to their safety ... and yet chose to ignore that risk," Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson said.
The National Transportation Safety Board said the bus was traveling up to 78 mph before it veered off the road.
Defense attorney Steven Seener said it was a horrific accident and that his client was also hurt.
Williams told NBC New York in March that he was "having a difficult time breathing" and that he was "really hurt about the whole situation."
The bus crashed on March 12 as it headed from a Connecticut casino to Manhattan's Chinatown.
It was the first of several deadly tour bus crashes that have brought renewed attention to the industry. Two days after that crash, a bus crashed from New York to Philadelphia, killing two and injuring dozens, and three other bus crashes in New York since then have killed and injured several more.
Williams blew a .00 in a blood-alcohol test at the scene of the Bronx tragedy and voluntarily offered blood for a more precise blood alcohol test, officials said.
He had a criminal record that includes an arrest for driving with a suspended license and possession of three police radio scanners, NBC New York first reported.
NBC New York also learned last spring that in 2004, Williams applied for a security guard license but that request was denied because of his past "serious offense."
New York State Inspector Ellen Biben separately released a report Thursday on oversight of commercial bus drivers, concluding that a weak state bureaucracy allowed Williams to remain on the road while using an alias and carrying a criminal conviction.
Biben concluded that serious improvements are needed to make sure commercial drivers aren't using multiple licenses to conceal poor driving records and criminal pasts.
Williams's wife cried in court Thursday. He waved at her as he left the courtroom.