Verdict reached in Bronx bus crash - New York News

Driver acquitted of manslaughter in bus crash case

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Ophadell Williams Ophadell Williams

Ophadell Williams, the casino bus driver charged in a deadly bus crash in the Bronx last year, was found not guilty on 15 counts of manslaughter.

He was found guilty on one count of operating a vehicle with a suspended license in the third degree.

Williams wept and covered his face with his hands as the verdict was read. On the count which he was found guilty, the judge sentenced him to 30 days in prison, which he has served. He also was ordered to pay a fee of $500.

Williams had pleaded not guilty in the March 12, 2011 crash.

He said a tractor-trailer cut him off and he lost control. The bus carrying gamblers coming from a Connecticut casino was sheared open like a sardine can when it struck a pole.

Prosecutors said Williams was so recklessly exhausted and sleep deprived, it was as if he was drunk. He faced up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The trial lasted more than eight weeks, with Superstorm Sandy causing a delay. Juror deliberated about a week, but not consecutively.

Jurors reached their verdict Thursday, but one had to leave.

The victims were mostly Chinese men and women over the age of 40 who were regulars at casinos. About half died. The others were injured. Survivors missing limbs testified in court, including Ren Xiang Yao who spoke of how he lost both arms when he raised them up instinctively when the bus crashed. He said he didn't see the crash -- though he remembers when the rescue crews arrived.

"I used all the energy I had left and said, `I'm here, I'm here, please come rescue me,' "he said. "By the time I woke up, I was already in the hospital."

Yao was hospitalized for nearly a month and had several operations.

Jurors also watched video from the scene of the accident and other wounded passengers who testified the bus was unsteady in the moments before it crashed.

Williams had been held in Rikers Island because his family couldn't post $250,000 bail.

The National Transportation Safety Board said in June that the accident was probably caused by driver fatigue, and a bus company that provided too little safety oversight. It stopped short of saying Williams had fallen asleep.

Williams worked for World Wide Tours of Greater New York. Federal regulators shut down the bus operator after the accident for safety violations. Williams had not turned in any driver's logs while working for the company as required by federal safety regulations, yet World Wide took no action, federal investigators said.

But the bus company won't face any criminal charges related to the crash, Bronx District Attorney Robert T. Johnson has said.

New York state has stepped up inspections of tour buses since the crash. Dozens of buses have been taken out of service after police found problems with logbooks, licenses or equipment. But there have been several bus accidents since.

D.A. Johnson released this statement: 

"In cases in which there are serious issues of facts in dispute, trials are necessary. We strongly believe that the issues in this case were appropriate to put before a jury. We argued that Mr. Williams had twice received training warning of the dangers of driving without enough sleep and that he was aware of the necessary precautions to safeguard his passengers. We presented telephone and car rental records which documented the many hours, in the days leading up to the crash, that Mr. Williams was awake and active when he should have been getting sufficient rest. There was also forensic evidence which ruled out contact with another vehicle as a cause of the crash. In addition, information retrieved from the 'black box' indicated Mr. Williams never attempted to apply the brakes as the bus careened out of control. We believe that our case was compelling, nevertheless we accept the decision of the jury."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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