Driver of Horrific Bus Crash Previously Arrested and Convicted of Manslaughter

Driver of tour bus crash had a string of arrests and convictions.

March 14, 2011, 11:59 AM

March 14, 2011— -- The driver of the casino gambling tour bus that crashed on a New York highway Saturday, killing 15 people, had a history of driving without a license and other vehicular offenses and served nearly seven years for manslaughter and grand larceny.

Ophadell Williams, also known as Eric Williams, told police a tractor trailer rear-ended the bus, triggering the crash, but according to multiple sources, State Police investigators have repeatedly gone over the truck without finding anything linking it to the crash.

With lack of evidence casting further doubt on the driver's version of events, National Transportation Safety Board officials said they will again interview him.


Williams has a string of arrests and convictions that included charges in 2003 of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, driving with a suspended license and unlawful possession of radio devices and police scanners.

According to New York State Department of Corrections records, Williams was convicted of manslaughter in April 1992. He served three years in jail, including 361 days before being convicted.

In 1998 he was convicted of grand larceny in Manhattan and served four years in state prison, from April 21, 1998 to May 15, 2002. He had also served 106 days of city jail time on that charge.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced today that the state inspector general will begin an investigation of how a man with Williams' criminal record and driving history could have gotten a commercial driver's license.

Investigators into the crash will speak with witnesses at the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut, the bus's departure point, to piece together Williams' actions the night before the accident.

Officials want to know what he ate and drank, and whether he had slept before climbing behind the wheel to drive 32 passengers to New York City.

A 70-year-old man died this morning, bringing the death toll from the crash to 15.

Six people remain hospitalized in critical condition and another is in stable condition.

The accident may have been caused by the bus driver speeding rather than, as the bus driver initially told police, a tractor trailer clipping the bus, officials said.

Several witnesses told authorities the discount tour bus was barreling south on Interstate 95 at a reckless speed moments before it flipped on its side, skidded 100 yards and struck a pole that sliced it nearly in half at the passenger seat level.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., called on the NTSB today to investigate the safety regulations of discount tour buses.

"The low-cost intercity bus travel industry along the Northeast corridor has expanded rapidly in recent years and it appears safety regulations haven't kept pace," Velázquez said.

The board has previously pushed for tougher regulations on driver fatigue.

The accident happened early Saturday morning on the New England Thruway at the Hutchinson River Parkway in the Bronx.

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said both the truck and the bus were moving at "a significant rate of speed," according to WABC-TV in New York.

Shamel Bookard and Ashanti Jackson, friends of the bus driver, described Williams as the kind of person who is likely overwhelmed 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.

Friends Say Driver is Known for His Courage

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.

"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 with 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."

The bus was en route from Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut to lower Manhattan's 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 a statement Saturday.

WABC News' Mark Crudele, ABC News' Sherisse Pham, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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