The driver of a tour bus involved in a deadly crash on I95 in New York City is now under federal investigation. Ophadell Williams was driving a tour bus with 31 passengers, from casinos in Connecticut back to Chinatown in Manhattan when he crashed, killing 15 people, and injuring the rest.
Williams told investigating officers that his bus had been clipped by a tractor trailer tuck, causing him to swerve to the right, sideswipe a guardrail for 300 feet, and ultimately crash into a support pole for a highway sign which sheared through the bus, tearing the roof off.
But passengers are telling a different story, prompting an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). An investigating officer, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, stated that passengers aboard the bus noted that the driver had swerved several times prior to the crash, and further, they did not feel any impact before the crash. This officer also interviewed other drivers on I95 at the time of the crash and no one saw the bus get hit. He also reported that the driver had an incomplete log book, something that is required for commercial drivers. Another source said Williams was speeding.
Although federal rules do not prevent those with a criminal record from being issued a bus license, there are rules that prevent a convicted felon from holding a commercial drivers license. Federal investigators have learned that Williams is a convicted felon, having served 2 prison terms, one for manslaughter, and one for grand larceny, and the he used aliases at the time of his convictions.
In addition to digging deeper into Williams criminal background and use of aliases, investigators will also be reviewing surveillance tapes from the casinos to determine whether Williams consumed alcohol prior to the crash, and to see what he was doing in the hours that lead up to the crash. The engine-control module, similar to a black-box on a plane, has been sent to Washington, DC for downloading at the NTSB lab.
Investigators will also try to determine whether Williams simply fell asleep while driving. Williams employer, World Wide Tours of Greater New York, is no stranger to driver fatigue issues. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has put World Wide Tours on notice of potential extra scrutiny for violations of driver fatigue regulations due to 2 prior accidents involving injury in the last 2 years. Police have already confirmed that Williams logbook was incomplete.
According to the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 56,000 accidents occur each year due to driver fatigue, resulting in 40,000 injuries, and 1,500 fatalities. NHTSA has identified several characteristics of fatigue related accidents: accident occurs late at night, early morning, or midafternoon; the wreck is serious, a single vehicle leaves the roadway, the wreck happens on a road with a high speed limit, and the driver does not try to prevent crashing. Unfortunately, there are no tests to determine how tired a driver is. An experienced injury attorney can conduct a proper investigation into driver fatigue, particularly those required to mainain driving logs.