Ophadell Williams, the tour bus driver behind the wheel on I-95 in the Bronx on March 12, 2011 when the bus flipped over, struck a stanchion and 15 people died, was indicted by a Bronx County Grand Jury last week in the fatal bus accident. Williams, 40, was charged with 15 counts of vehicular manslaughter; 15 counts of criminally negligent homicide; and 23 counts of vehicular assault for the number of injuries suffered by the passengers in the crash. Williams was also charged with reckless driving and aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.
The facts are that on March 12, 2011, Mr. Williams was driving 31 Chinese immigrants back home to Chinatown from a gambling trip to the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Pennsylvania. Prosecutors charge that Williams was driving recklessly, weaving in and out of traffic, changing lanes unsafely, and speeding. They also contend that he had not had enough sleep to be driving safely. U.S. Department of Transportation investigators have determined that the bus was proceeding at 78 m.p.h when Williams lost control at the time of the fatal accident, which occurred on I-95 near the Bronx-Westchester border southbound. At 5:30 AM that March day, the Worldwide Tours bus swerved, toppled, skidded for 100 yards, and then slammed into a metal road sign, decapitating some passengers and causing severe injuries to others.
Mr. Williams informed investigators that he lost control of the bus when it was clipped by a tractor-trailer, but D.O.T. investigators have not been able to confirm this through physical evidence or witness statements. Williams was driving the bus despite the fact that he had two felony convictions on his record, for manslaughter in 1990, and grand larceny in 1998. Apparently, he used an alias so that his employers and the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (NYDMV) would not find out about his background.
On the vehicular manslaughter charge, which is a C felony under the New York State Penal Law, Mr. Williams is facing a maximum of 15 years in state prison. On the Criminally Negligent Homicide charge, which is an E Felony, the maximum jail term is 4 years, along with a $5,000 fine. Williams is also charged with the misdemeanor of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle under Section 511 of the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law. This charge is issued, for example, when a driver has been determined to be operating a motor vehicle without a valid driver’s license and has already been convicted of this offense, or when a driver is operating without a valid license and has a previous DWI conviction. Lastly, Williams is also charged with the misdemeanor of reckless driving under section 1212 of the Vehicle & Traffic Law.
Mr. Williams was arraigned and held on $250,000 bail. The tragic accident has shed light on some of the practices of the tour bus industry and lax supervision and investigation by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, (FMCSA), who has pledged reform through the efforts of the head of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Ray LaHood. Further, calls for reform and stricter enforcement have been made by New York Senator Chuck Schumer as well. We will follow this case as it proceeds and report when there are further developments.
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