The fatal bus crash that killed 14 people in New York Saturday morning may have been caused by the bus driver speeding rather than, as he told police, a tractor trailer clipping the bus. Several witnesses told authorities that the driver was barreling South on Interstate-95 at a reckless speed moments before the bus flipped on its side, skidded 100 yards, and struck a pole, which sliced the bus nearly in half.
Investigators will be examining recording devices on the bus that could provide clues to how fast the driver was traveling.
"Our investigators will be digging into that further to find out what is there and what information if any we can glean from those," said Christopher Hart, vice chair of the National Transportation Safety Board.
On Sunday, six people were still in critical condition at Jacobi Medical Center, including an unidentified man in his 50s, a hospital spokeswoman said. At St. Barnabas Hospital, a 75-year-old woman was taken off life support and is now breathing on her own. The condition of a 70-year-old man has also improved. Hospital spokesman Howard Matzner said the bus driver, Ophadel Williams, is in stable condition and has not been released yet.
Williams, 40, of Brooklyn was driving 32 passengers back to New York City from a weekend trip at the Connecticut casino Mohegan Sun. The majority of them were Asians whom the casino directly markets to.
Investigators said the bus company, World Wide Tours of Brooklyn, has had two accidents in which passengers were injured during the past two years. For that reason, federal investigators have been watching the company for possible violations of driver fatigue rules.
Saturday night, a bus company spokesperson said the company is cooperating with investigators. "On behalf of World Wide we do extend our condolences to those affected by this tragedy. Please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you in this time of grief," said spokesman Eric Brodie.
Yesterday, New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told ABC station WABC-TV in New York that both the truck and the bus were moving at "a significant rate of speed."
"We have a number of reports, some of whom come in saying the driver was operating south-bound at a high-rate of speed," said State Police Major Michael Kopy.
Two UPS drivers said they were headed South on I-95 Saturday morning when the World Wide Tours bus flew by them. "When that bus went by, it shook my vehicle. I felt my vehicle shake from the turbulence of the wind," said UPS employee Joe Insalata, an eyewitness.
Several minutes later they came upon the horrific scene.
"When we saw logo on the back of the bus, we're like World Wide Tours, that's the guy who passed us at a very high rate of speed," said Ira Berman, a UPS worker who had been driving with Insalata.
Chung Ninh, 59, told The New York Times and NY1 News he was sleeping with his seatbelt on when the bus flipped, startling him awake. It was a confusing cacophony of screams. He saw people who had been killed on impact. One man was bleeding from a severed arm.
Ninh said when he tried to help one bloodied woman, the driver told him that she was already dead. "'Forget this one. Help another one,"' Ninh said the driver told him.
"People were saying, 'Oh my God. Oh my God,' holding their hands on their heads," limo driver Homer Martinez told The Associated Press about the carnage at the scene of the accident. "I saw people telling other people not to go there, 'You don't want to see this.'"
New York firefighters and medics were quickly on the scene, supporting the bus by wood planks. "As we back through the bus we found more people pinned because of the stanchion," FDNY Chief of Department Edward Kilduff told the New York Daily News. "We had about seven or eight people pinned in the rear of the bus that we had to actually cut out by removing seats or cut a hole in the roof of the bus."
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that the New York State Police is leading the investigation and that city agencies have set up a Family Assistance Center to provide family members with information regarding their loved ones. People seeking information about those injured or killed on the bus are urged to call 311 or 212-NEWYORK.