NBC 4 New York
The driver at the helm of a tour bus that crashed in a horrific accident last year, killing 15 passengers returning to Chinatown from a casino in Connecticut, was found not guilty of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. News 4's Tracie Strahan reports.
The driver at the helm of a tour bus that crashed in a horrific accident last year, killing 15 passengers returning to Chinatown from a casino in Connecticut, told The New York Post after his manslaughter acquittal that he "feels sorry every day" over the loss of life.
Ophadell Williams was cleared Friday of second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and various assault charges by a Bronx jury. He was found guilty of third-degree aggravated operation of an unlicensed motor vehicle and sentenced to time served.
Williams had been jailed at Rikers Island for more than 16 months following the March 12, 2011 crash. He told the Post from outside his Brownsville, Brooklyn home Monday that it was the first time he had emerged from his house since the verdict.
He said he was touched not only by the support from his community as he strolled his local streets for the first time as a free man, but by the groundswell of encouragement he received since his incarceration.
"Just the amount of prayers, how many people prayed, all over the world, not just in New York City," Williams told the Post.
Prosecutors had argued the 41-year-old Williams was sleep-deprived and should have known better than to drive in that condition. The defense said Williams was not fatigued and maintained he was a hero, helping injured passengers from the wreck even though he was injured.
The bus crashed on Interstate 95 at daybreak in the Bronx as Williams was ferrying a busload of gamblers to Chinatown from the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Conn.
Aside from the 13 people who died at the scene, two died at a hospital and 15 others were injured, some severely. The bus struck a guard rail, then toppled over and hit a signpost that opened the top like a sardine can before skittering to a stop.
Williams worked for World Wide Tours of Greater New York. Federal regulators shut down the bus operator after the accident for safety violations. The bus company won't face criminal charges related to the crash.
Williams told the Post he wasn't sure what he would do next for work, but said he loved being a bus driver. He also said he was glad to be waking up in his own bed instead of on a Rikers cot.
New York state has stepped up inspections of tour buses since the crash. Dozens of buses have been taken out of service after police found problems with logbooks, licenses or equipment. But there have been several bus accidents since.