March 13, 2011 -- The fatal gambling casino bus crash that claimed 14 lives in New York this morning now looks more likely to have been caused by its driver falling asleep rather than, as he told police, a tractor trailer hitting the bus from behind and triggering the chain reaction that caused the bus to flip and have its roof sliced off by a heavy sign support, officials said.
According to officials, the driver of the tractor trailer says that the tour bus bus flew by him. It hit lane warning bumps and continued to swerve until it flipped, sources said.
There was no evidence, officials said, of the truck having hit the bus.
The accident happened at about 5:30 a.m. on the New England Thruway at the Hutchinson River Parkway in the Bronx.
The bus was heading southbound when it flipped on its side. It then skidded into the support post for a large highway sign. The post sliced through the length of the bus at the passenger seat level, officials said.
PHOTO GALLERY: VIEW PHOTOS FROM THE SCENE
New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said both the truck and the bus were moving at "a significant rate of speed," according to ABC station WABC-TV in New York.
Shamel Bookard and Ashanti Jackson, friends of Oferdel Williams, the driver of the bus, described him as the kind of person who is likely ovewhelmed with sadness at what happened.
"I'm sure he's greatly sorry for what did happen," Jackson told WABC-TV.
They said Williams is known for his courage.
"Years ago he ran into a burning building and saved a family, there was a girl, a grandmother in a wheelchair, he brought them out the fire," Bookard told WABC-TV.
"Our -- and the entire city's -- prayers, thoughts and sympathies are with the victims, and their families and loved ones," said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a statement.
"Our prayers and sympathies are with the victims of this terrible tragedy and their family and friends."
The mayor said that the New York State Police is leading the investigation into the accident, and that city agencies have set up a Family Assistance Center to provide family members with information regarding their loved ones.
A total of 32 people were on board.
According to New York City Fire Department officials, five people were critically injured, two others suffered serious injuries and 11 suffered minor injuries.
"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."
Two nearby hospitals -- St. Barnabas Hospital and Jacobi Medical Center -- were used to treat the patients.
The bus was en route from Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut to lower Manhattan where it was ultimately bound for Chinatown.
"Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the families of all those involved in this morning's tragic bus accident in New York, " Mohegan Sun Chairman Bruce "Two Dogs" Bozsum and President Jeff Hartmann said in statement yesterday.