NEW YORK (PIX 11)—Was a bus driver at fault for killing 15 of his passengers? That's the question investigators ask now as new information casts some doubt on the account of the crash that the driver initially gave.
Ophadell E. Williams, 41, was behind the wheel of the motor coach that slid along a guard rail, then flipped on its side and slammed into the pole of an exit sign on I-95 near the entrance to the Hutchinson River Parkway in the Bronx around 5:35 a.m. Saturday morning. That pole sliced like a can opener straight through the bus from front to back, taking off the roof nearly all the way to the rear of the bus.
Williams passed a Breathalyzer test and told investigators that a semi trailer sideswiped the bus and kept on driving. The bus driver said that the impact between his vehicle and the big rig caused the crash.
However, 17 people survived the collision. Even though eight of them are in critical condition, some of them told investigators that driver Ophadel Williams had dozed off several times on the trip from Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut to Chinatown in Manhattan.
Now, a "black box" digital information recorder and a video recorder that were onboard the bus are being analyzed by investigators from both the National Transportation Safety Board and the NYPD.
World Wide Tours owns the bus which is being analyzed extensively by investigators. The company says through its attorney and on its website that it's cooperating in the probe to figure out what happened.
PIX 11 News went to World Wide Tours headquarters in Gowanus, Brooklyn Monday morning. The only time the doors to the bus garage and office did not stay tightly shut were to let buses and employees in and out. During one of those exceptions, a worker spoke briefly with PIX 11 News. "We feel sorry for the people and what happened," the unidentified employee said. "But we don't have anything to say... we don't know anything."
As for further information relating to the crash, none other than Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly provided it. "Obviously, there was speed involved," he said in a Saturday news conference.
Supporting that conclusion is one of many elements of the investigation underway. Another is analyzing a semi-trailer that has been impounded. Its driver came forward, telling police that he was behind the bus when it crashed and that his rig never came in contact with the motor coach.
The speed limit posted on I-95 near the Bronx - Westchester County border, where the crash occurred, is 55 miles per hour. State Police Maj. Michael Kopy said, "We have a number of reports saying the driver was operating southbound at a high speed."
There has been no confirmation yet that the bus was hit by another vehicle that drove off, Kopy said, but he added that the investigation is proceeding.
"It appears the operator lost control of the vehicle for what is as yet an undetermined reason," Kopy said. "Right now we're conducting, at this point, a criminal investigation." He said it is "premature" to accuse any driver of wrongdoing in the crash, pending the conclusion of the investigation.
In a statement the NYPD said, "The New York State Police today confirmed the total number of fatalities resulting from Saturday's bus crash on I-95 is now at 15. Below are the names of the deceased whose next of kin have been notified, as well as gender, age and where they were from, if available:
AQUINO, MIGUEL - M / 55 -
ENG, KAM MING - M / 81 - NYC
ENG, YUK CHUN - F / - NYC
GARCIA, JOSE - M/ NYC
LEE, BING FONG - F / - Brooklyn
LEE, DON - M / 76 - NYC
MEI, BIQIN - F /
TRAN, NINH - F /
WANG JIAN HUA - M / 40 -
WONG, MAY LIN - F / - NYC
WONG, OCK THLING - M / 83 - NYC
XIAN, YANG T. - M / - NYC
YEH, MICHAEL - M / 65 - Brooklyn
Two victims remain unidentified at this time.
The New York State Police, in conjunction with the New York City Police Department (NYPD), and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are continuing the investigation into the cause of the accident. All investigative leads are being pursued and all forensic technology will be employed in an effort to recreate the accident. "
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT