NEW YORK - The driver of a tour bus sliced end-to-end by a pole in a horrific March crash that killed 15 people returning from a gambling trip in Connecticut pleaded not guilty yesterday to manslaughter charges.
Ophadell Williams was indicted in Bronx State Supreme Court. Prosecutors said Williams knew he was sleep-deprived while he was driving the bus. Williams has maintained that he was alert and awake.
The World Wide Travel bus ran off Interstate 95 at daybreak on March 12 as it was returning to Manhattan’s Chinatown from a trip to the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Conn.
The crash killed 15 people and injured dozens more. A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board said the bus veered to the right, crossed the shoulder, hit a barrier, and traveled 480 feet as it fell over. Then it slid into a vertical sign support that sheared through the bus at the window line.
Williams has said the crash was touched off when the towering bus was clipped by a tractor-trailer, which forced him to swerve and crash.
Some surviving passengers who are suing Williams claimed he was asleep at the wheel.
Williams’ lawyer, Sean Rooney, said that police tested the driver’s breath and blood for alcohol and that the tests were negative.
The NTSB report found that an inspection of a tractor-trailer whose driver came forward as a witness revealed no evidence of contact. The report also found that the bus was traveling 78 mph less than a minute before the crash but then slowed somewhat. The speed limit at the Bronx site is 55 mph.
The preliminary report does not cite a cause of the crash, and officials said that would be determined in the final report probably next year.
State police said soon after the crash that witnesses reported the driver had been speeding.