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Published March 14, 2011, 05:27 PM

NYC Bus Crash Driver Has Manslaughter Conviction

Investigators looking into a horrific weekend casino bus crash that killed 15 people were examining surveillance video as they tried to retrace the actions of the driver, who once served time for manslaughter and grand larceny.

By: Associated Press,

NEW YORK (AP) — Investigators looking into a horrific weekend casino bus crash that killed 15 people were examining surveillance video as they tried to retrace the actions of the driver, who once served time for manslaughter and grand larceny.

The investigation continued to focus on the driver, Ophadell Williams, 40, whose story that his tour bus carrying 32 people was clipped by a tractor-trailer has been contradicted by passenger and witnesses who saw him driving erratically before Saturday's crash on Interstate 95.

The bus, taking gamblers back to Manhattan's Chinatown after a few hours at the casino, was sheared in half by a sign pole after overturning on the highway, leaving a jumbled mess of bodies. Alcohol and drug test results for Williams were pending.

Williams was convicted of manslaughter for his role in a stabbing in 1990 and served just over two years, according to New York State Department of Correctional Services. He had initially been charged with second-degree murder.

He also served about three years, from 1998 through the middle of 2002, for grand larceny for removing an $83,905 check from a Police Athletic League fund, according to Linda Foglia, correctional services spokeswoman. Williams used aliases in both those cases.

He also was arrested by New York City police on June 4, 2003, for driving with a suspended license, and for possession police radios. In 1987, he was arrested on charges of trying to get on public transportation without paying.

New York State Police Investigator Joseph Becerra wouldn't say specifically what police were seeking from surveillance video. He said the video was from inside and outside the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Conn.

"We're trying to recreate his whereabouts while he was there," Becerra said. He said police hoped to see video from the time the bus arrived Friday night to its departure early Saturday.

Meanwhile, a 70-year-old man died Monday morning at St. Barnabas' Hospital in the Bronx, bringing the death toll to 15.

State police also identified all but two of the victims. Officials said most were of Chinese descent, not all of their ages were available.

Miguel Aquino, 55; Kam Ming Eng, 81; Yuk Chun Eng; Jose Garcia; Bing Fong Lee; Don Lee, 76; Biqun Mei; Ninh Tran; Jian Hua Wan, 40; May Lin Won; Ock Thling, 83; Yang T. Xian; and Michael Yeh, 65.

Becerra said an accident reconstruction team, and the National Transportation Safety Board, were trying to determine the cause of the accident and the speed of the bus at the time of the crash. The NTSB scheduled a news conference for later Monday.

Becerra said if the investigation "reveals that any laws were broken, appropriate charges will be filed." He said he could not predict when or if that might happen. District attorneys from both the Bronx and Westchester County were involved because the crash occurred on the city line, Becerra said.

He would not disclose anything Williams had told police during their interview of him.

Becerra said it appears Williams did not get a room at the casino.

The casino has a lounge for bus drivers with coffee, soda, snacks and televisions, Mohegan Sun President Jeff Hartmann said. He said he did not know whether Williams was in the lounge before the trip.

"We don't keep track of them. They're on their own," he told The Associated Press. He said the casino was cooperating with police.

The bus was one of scores that travel daily between Chinatown and the casinos in southeastern Connecticut. The Mohegan Sun caters to Chinese-American gamblers and has estimated that one-fifth of its business comes from Asian spending. Hartmann said 44,000 buses visit the casino annually from around the region.

Williams, who was released from the hospital on Sunday, was at home in Brooklyn on Monday but did not appear outside. His friend and neighbor, Francisco Rivera, said Williams was a safe driver.

"I think something else happened. ... I've been in a car with him several times and I've never seen him drive crazy ... or swerve," Williams said.

He said there was a death in Williams' family this year and a younger brother was lost "to the streets."

"And now this happens to him. Everybody's just messed up in the family right now," he said.

On Sunday, the NTSB said it had interviewed passengers but not the driver. Vice Chairman Christopher Hart said the board planned to talk to the bus company, World Wide Travel, about its fatigue-management program and to see if the driver checked into a room at the casino. A blood sample has been taken from him to check for drugs and alcohol.

The company, which didn't return messages on Monday, has said it was cooperating.

At City Hall on Monday, two Democratic politicians asked the NTSB to go beyond its investigation of Saturday's crash and examine the regulations governing low-cost tour buses in general.

Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Nydia Velasquez released a letter to the board that said, "There is ample evidence that the incident involving World Wide Tours is not an isolated incident but rather just one example of an industry that in many cases is operating outside the bounds of city, state and federal transportation safety guidelines."

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records listed World Wide Travel as having at least two other accidents in which people were injured in the past 24 months. The agency flagged the company for possible extra scrutiny due to violations involving driver fatigue regulations.

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