NEW YORK (AP) — A manslaughter trial set to begin Thursday will determine whether a tour bus driver should be held responsible for the deaths of 15 passengers when the vehicle slammed into a guardrail and crashed last year, shearing the roof end to end.
Ophadell Williams pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in the March 12, 2011, accident after prosecutors said he was seriously sleep-deprived but drove anyway.
The World Wide Travel bus ran off Interstate 95 at daybreak as it was returning to Manhattan's Chinatown from an overnight trip to the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Conn. The crash killed 15 people, mostly Chinese men and women over the age of 40 who were regulars at casinos.
Williams said that a tractor-trailer had cut him off, and that's why he swerved and hit the guardrail. But investigators could find no indication that had occurred. His attorneys have said he was awake and alert, and he's wracked with guilt over the crash, but not guilty of any crimes.
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. They stopped short of saying Williams had fallen asleep.
The bus was traveling at speeds up to 78 mph in a 50 mph zone until seconds before it ran off the road, skittered along a highway guardrail, toppled over and crashed into the support pole for a highway sign. The pole sliced through the bus front to back along the window line, shearing off the roof.
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