- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 15, 2011

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Investigators looking into a weekend tour bus crash in New York that killed 15 people are focusing on the driver, a man with a decades-old manslaughter conviction who was not supposed to be driving because he had not resolved several traffic tickets.

The bus driver, Ophadell Williams, was ticketed in 1995 for speeding and twice for driving without a license, giving police the alias Erik Williams, two state officials familiar with the accident probe told the Associated Press on Monday. Mr. Williams‘ driving privileges were suspended, meaning he couldn’t legally drive in the state, after he failed to address the charges.

The bus crash occurred Saturday as gamblers were returning to New York’s Chinatown neighborhood, in downtown Manhattan, after a few hours at the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Conn. The bus was sheared in half by a sign pole.

On Monday night, another company’s tour bus from Chinatown to Philadelphia crashed on the New Jersey Turnpike, killing the driver and a passenger. About 40 people were hospitalized.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators said they were looking at Mr. Williams‘ last 72 hours before the Saturday crash, checking the casino’s surveillance video.

** FILE ** This image provided by ABC-TV shows the World Wide Tours tour bus after it was sliced by an exit sign on Interstate 95 in the Bronx borough of New York early Saturday, March 12, 2011. (AP Photo/ABC)
** FILE ** This image provided by ABC-TV shows the World Wide ... more >

“We want to know what he ate, what he drank and how much he slept,” NTSB Vice Chairman Christopher Hart said.

Investigators zeroed in on the 40-year-old Mr. Williams‘ record after his story that his tour bus was clipped by a tractor-trailer fell apart when passengers and witnesses said it never happened.

Investigators are trying to follow Mr. Williams‘ steps by matching Social Security numbers of traffic stops under different names, the officials said, speaking to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation. Mr. Williams also had an incomplete log book, which is required for commercial drivers, the officials said.

The revelations about Mr. Williams, who has a 20-year-old manslaughter conviction, prompted Gov. Andrew Cuomo to launch a state investigation into how Mr. Williams was able to hold a valid commercial driver’s license at the time of Saturday’s crash.

Telephone calls to Mr. Williams‘ Brooklyn home were unanswered Monday. A spokesman for the bus company that employed him, World Wide Travel, declined to comment, on the instructions of federal investigators.

Mr. Williams was convicted of crimes using two aliases. He served just more than two years for manslaughter for his role in a stabbing in 1990, state correction records show. He initially was charged with second-degree murder.

Mr. Williams served about three years, from 1998 to the middle of 2002, for grand larceny for removing an $83,905 check from a Police Athletic League fund, correctional services spokeswoman Linda Foglia said.

He also was arrested by New York City police on June 4, 2003, for driving with a suspended license and for possession of three police radios. In 1987, he was arrested on charges of trying to get on public transportation without paying.

No federal regulations prohibit states from issuing a license to a bus driver with a criminal record, said Duane DeBruyne, a spokesman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Mr. Hart, the NTSB vice chairman, said the bus and the tractor-trailer had black-box-like engine-control modules that might have stored information. He said the module from the bus had been sent to the NTSB lab in Washington for downloading; the tractor-trailer was impounded.

Story Continues →