Ophadell Williams, the driver involved in a deadly bus accident in Bronx last year that killed 15 passengers, was found not guilty on charges of manslaughter in a Bronx court on Friday. Williams was free to leave the court room following the judgment with simply a $500 dollar fine.
The jury’s verdict came as a surprise to many, and survivors and family members of those who died believe the judgment is unjust. Many of the survivors lost limbs and were permanently disabled. A shocked relative of one of the victims, who did not wish to be names, called the judgment an ‘outrage’. ’15 lives were lost and no one is going to pay for it,’ he said.
Williams faced up to 15 years in prison if he was found guilty of all of the 54 charges levelled against him. The 41 year old driver, who hails from Brooklyn, was found guilty of just one charge of aggravated operation of a vehicle without a license.
The March 12, 2011 accident occurred when Williams was driving a World Wide Tours bus from the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut to Chinatown on the I-95. Williams was allegedly severely sleep deprived. As the bus was approaching the Bronx, it veered suddenly off the highway, flipping on to its side. Although the prosecution claim that Williams fell asleep, so causing the accident, Williams said that he was forced to swerve after being cut off by a truck.
As well as the 15 fatalities, a further 18 passengers were seriously injured in the accident. One woman was left permanently in a wheelchair, while another man lost both his arms in the crash. The prosecution provided evidence from the bus’s ‘black box’ that showed that Williams did not hit the brakes immediately before the accident, claiming that this suggested that Williams was in fact falling asleep and not trying to avoid another vehicle.
Bus passengers and other witnesses who were driving on the I-95 at the time, say that Williams appeared to be driving erratically, weaving between traffic and rapidly changing lanes. Williams’ attorney said that this behaviour was due to a number of construction sites and speed cameras on the highway at the time. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that driver fatigue was the probable cause of the accident following their investigation, which concluded in June.
Williams, who has been in prison for 15 months while awaiting trial, was taken home to his wife in a private car following the verdict.