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Bus driver indicted in Bronx crash that killed 15

By Leigh Remizowski and Julie Cannold, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ophadell Williams, 40, faces 15 counts each of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide
  • He was the driver of a tour bus that crashed into a roadside barrier on March 12, killing 15
  • His driving privileges had bee suspended under an alias, inspector general says
  • Williams and World Wide Tours are named in two multimillion-dollar lawsuits

New York (CNN) -- The driver of a bus involved in a deadly accident in March has been indicted on charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, according to the Bronx district attorney.

Ophadell Williams, 40, was behind the wheel of a tour bus that crashed into a roadside barrier in the Bronx on March 12, killing 15 passengers.

Thursday, Bronx District Attorney Robert T. Johnson announced that the grand jury charged Williams with 15 counts each of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

He also was charged with 23 counts of assault, one count of reckless driving and one count of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. He is being held on $250,000 bail, according to the DA's office.

"This tragedy is compounded by the fact that we believe that it was completely avoidable," Johnson said.

He said Williams "recognized the risk that his conduct posed to (the passengers') safety and well being of others, and yet chose to ignore that risk."

Calls and e-mails to Williams' attorney, Sean Rooney, were not immediately returned.

In a separate report released Thursday, the New York State Inspector General revealed that Williams should not have been given a commercial bus driver license, but was able to obtain one by using fake names and false information.

At the time of the crash, Williams' driving privileges were suspended under an alias, Eric Williams, according to a statement released by Inspector General Ellen Biben.

Williams also has a criminal record, including first-degree manslaughter and grand larceny, the statement said.

Although his criminal history would not have prevented Williams from obtaining a driver's license in New York, Biben said, he was unfit for the job and the state's commercial licensing process should have weeded him out.

"New York passengers and the public at large deserve to have the utmost confidence in the fitness and qualifications of bus drivers," Biben said in the statement. "There needs to be a higher level of scrutiny for licensing commercial bus drivers in this State."

A March investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board determined that the bus hit a roadside barrier, then rolled and skidded for 500 feet before colliding with a highway signpost, which pierced the windshield and speared the length of the bus, according to NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman.

Investigators determined that the bus was traveling at 78 mph at some point between leaving the Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, and the scene of the accident, while the speed limit at that stretch of roadway was 50 miles per hour for commercial vehicles, Hersman told CNN.

The World Wide Tours bus was headed toward Chinatown in Manhattan.

Police said Williams had told investigators that the incident occurred after he swerved to avoid a tractor-trailer before it clipped the bus the NTSB engineer who examined the bus found no evidence to indicate that a truck had come into contact with it, Hersman said.

Two survivors of the Bronx bus accident have filed multimillion-dollar lawsuits against the bus company and against Williams. Yuke Chue Lo and Erold Jean Marie are suing World Wide Tours and Williams for $20 million and $200 million, respectively.

Both passengers' court papers allege negligence on the part of the bus operating company for allowing Williams behind the wheel, with that resulting in the deadly crash on March 12. They also allege that Williams was speeding and fell asleep while driving.

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