A New York bus driver is facing charges of manslaughter in a New York court. The manslaughter trial, which is set to start on Thursday, will decide the fate of Ophadell Williams, who was the driver of a bus that had an accident in New York City last year, killing 15 people.
Williams pleaded not guilty to his charges of manslaughter and negligent homicide shortly after the accident in March 12, 2011. This latest trial will determine whether Williams is to be found liable for the deaths of 15 passengers. Prosecutors in the case claim that Williams was sleep deprived and in no fit state to drive, and should therefore be found guilty.
The bus that Williams was driving was owned by World Wide Travel. In the incident, the bus swerved off the road and smashed into a guardrail on the Interstate 95 at around 5am while it was returning from the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville to Chinatown in Manhattan. The accident tore the roof of the bus off, leaving 15 people dead. Most of the victims were Chinese immigrants staying in Chinatown.
In his defense, Williams claimed that a tractor-trailer cut him off as he was trying to merge lanes, forcing him to swerve and hit the guardrail. However, in the investigation following the incident no evidence could be found of another vehicle being involved.
The prosecutors claim that Williams fell asleep at the wheel, as he had been driving all night and was sleep deprived. The National Transportation Safety Board which investigated the incident, while stopping short of agreeing with the prosecutors, determined that driver fatigue most likely did play a contributory role in the incident, and that the bus company had placed excessive demands on the driver.
According to satellite data, the bus was travelling at close to 80mph in a 50mph zone when it swerved off the road, smashed into the highway guardrail and tipped over. The bus continued to slide after it had toppled, crashing through a pole supporting a road sign. The pole sheared the roof of the bus.
Following the incident, New York state police have increased the frequency of tour bus inspections. As a result, scores of buses have been removed from the roads due to faulty logbooks, inadequate maintenance or un-roadworthy vehicles.
Despite the increased inspections, however, a similar tour bus accident occurred on July 4 this year, just two miles from the site of the Williams incident. Fortunately there were no fatalities in this incident.