Bus Driver in Bronx Crash Questioned By Investigators

The driver met with investigators for more than 3 hours.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Thousands of people ride discount bus service, with some saying it's the only feasible way to travel out of the area. But two crashes have many worried about safety.

    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, was questioned by investigators for three and 1/2 hours on Tuesday.

    Ophadell Williams was questioned by state police and federal investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board at the Brooklyn headquarters of the bus company, World Wide Tours.

    Williams met with authorities a day after NBC New York was first to report he has a criminal record that includes an arrest for driving with a suspended license and possession of three police radio scanners.

    He has not been charged with any crime related to the crash and officials stress the investigation is still in its early stages.

    Bus Driver's Prior Arrests Come To Light

    [NY] Bus Driver's Prior Arrests Come To Light
    The driver of the bus that crashed on I-95, killing 15 people on its way from a Connecticut casino back to Manhattan has a criminal record that includes an arrest for driving with a suspended license and possession of three police radio scanners. Jonathan Dienst reports.

    The bus crashed early Saturday as it headed back from a Connecticut casino to Manhattan's Chinatown.

    Williams blew a .00 in a blood-alcohol test at the scene and voluntarily offered blood for a more precise blood alcohol test, officials said.

    Authorities are examining what Williams did in the 72 hours prior to the early morning crash, and have indicated the investigation could turn into a criminal matter.

    The New York State Inspector General will also look into how Williams was able to obtain and retain a commercial driver's license, given his criminal and driving history, Gov. Cuomo said.

    NBC New York also learned Tuesday that in 2004, Williams applied for a security guard license but that request was denied because of his past "serious offense."

    An official briefed on the case said a background check showed his criminal past and it was determined Williams was an "unreasonable risk to property, safety and welfare." Records also show officials were concerned he had made a "false statement" on his application for the security guard license.

    World Wide Tours has declined repeated requests to comment on the driver's history and its hiring procedures.

    Officials briefed on the case said Williams did not keep his driver's log up to date as he was required. Police had hoped to check the log to see how much time he spend on the road and how long he was able to rest for breaks between trips.

    Sources who are piecing together a timeline of what happened before the horrific crash said Williams arrive at the Mohegan Sun Casino around 11 p.m. Friday night to drop off passengers. He then drove to another lot to take a nap until he was called at 3 a.m. to pick up the group for a trip back to New York.

    The bus is said to have departed the casino, bound for Manhattan's Chinatown, at 3:45 a.m.

    It crashed on I-95 in the Bronx shortly after 5:30 a.m., skidding into a highway sign post that entered through the front window and sliced the bus like a knife.

    One official familiar with the case has said investigators are probing whether Williams fell asleep behind the wheel, or was somehow not paying attention.

    Passengers said the bus seemed to be drifting in and out of lanes, hitting the rumble strips, and state police said the bus may have been speeding.

    Williams' criminal record includes the June 2003 arrest for driving with a suspended license. He was also charged with aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle and possession of the police scanners.

    Police records show Williams was also charged with three felonies and two misdemeanors as an adult, including pleading guilty to one charge of manslaughter.

    He also had past arrests for grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property in 1998 and went back to prison, documents show.  He was released from parole in 2004.

    The driver's wife, Holly, told the Daily News that Williams "feels like he's at fault."

    "But I told him it's not his fault -- it's an accident. He feels upset that a lot of people died on his bus."

    In addition to the fatalities, seven other passengers were critically hurt. Ten out of the 19 injured have been treated and released. St.  Barnabas Hospital said it had discharged Williams Sunday night.

     

    Jonathan Dienst  WNBC