Families of Bus Crash Victims Mourn One Week Later - NBC New York

Families of Bus Crash Victims Mourn One Week Later

State officials announced a bus crackdown this week, with checkpoints statewide.



    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. (Published Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012)

    Family members gathered Saturday at the scene of a devastating bus crash that claimed the lives of 15 people on their way back to Manhattan from a Connecticut casino one week ago.

    Many of the victims' relatives were in tears at the solemn and heartbreaking remembrance, which was also a Buddhist ceremony, with monks leading the prayers.

    It resembled a funeral procession. Mourners brought flowers. Many held on tightly to one another as they prayed at the spot where the bus returning from Mohegan Sun overturned and was sliced in half by a pole.

    The monks and the mourners prayed for the dead, burning incense and letters, and leaving behind food for the spirits of the those lost. Personal items belonging to the victims dotted the memorial site.

    State police and NYPD officers stood by as grief-stricken relatives knelt in prayer.

    Police closed off one lane of I-95 so those gathered at the crash site would be safe and far enough from the traffic to conduct their ceremony in the solemnity and prviacy such an undertaking required.

    Still there were onlookers, people who slowed down to watch the group of 20 or so relatives of the victims mourn their dead.

    Residents who live in the area tell NBC New York they're heartbroken for the victims' families.

    "I hope they hang in there. I hope they get some change done so this doesn't happen again," said Che Ola, who lives in the Bronx.

    Another man acknowledged the sadness of the occasion.

    Near the end of this ceremony, the monks sprinkled water to purify the site where so many lives were lost. Buddhists believe that the spirits of the dead remain where they died when lost to tragedy. The ceremony allows the spirits to be released to the next world.

    In the week since the crash, state and federal regulators have cracked down on these types of tour buses, conducting surprise inspections.

    The bus driver, Ophadell Williams, has been questioned by investigators. NBC New York has learned he had his driving privileges suspended years ago, when he was driving under a different name.

    Passengers told investigators he may have been dozing off in the moments before the crash. Several people remain hospitalized. Many are on life support.

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

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