- Associated Press - Monday, March 14, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) — A 70-year-old man who died Monday became the 15th fatality from the gruesome weekend crash of a tour bus returning to New York’s Chinatown from a Connecticut casino.

Federal traffic safety experts and state police were investigating Saturday’s crash, studying a black-box-type recorder and looking into the driver’s actions before the deadly trip.

The National Transportation and Safety Board scheduled a briefing for later Monday afternoon.

Police said the latest victim died Monday morning at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx borough of New York. His name, like that of the other victims, was not made public. Officials said most were of Chinese descent.

The New York City medical examiner’s office said Sunday that the other fatalities — eight men and six women — all died of blunt-force trauma. The bus scraped along a guard rail, toppled and slid into a sign pole that sheared it end to end in a horrific scene of blood, jumbled bodies and shattered glass. Some of the dead were tangled up with the living.

The bus, returning from the Mohegan Sun casino, was one of scores that travel daily between Chinatown and the casinos in southeastern Connecticut.

Mohegan Sun, in Uncasville, Conn., caters to Chinese-American gamblers and has estimated that one-fifth of its business comes from Asian spending.

The driver, 40-year-old Ophadell Williams, survived and was released from St. Barnabas on Sunday and was at his Brooklyn home on Monday.

He told police that his bus was clipped by a tractor-trailer just as it crossed the New York City line on Interstate 95 early Saturday. But survivors and other witnesses have told investigators that Mr. Williams swerved to the right at times before the accident.

On Sunday, the NTSB said it had interviewed passengers but not the driver. Vice Chairman Christopher Hart said the board planned to talk to the bus company, World Wide Travel, about its fatigue-management program and to see if the driver checked into a room at the casino. A blood sample has been taken from him to check for drugs and alcohol.

The company said it was cooperating.

Mr. Hart said three devices would be analyzed: a camera mounted in the bus; an engine-control module, which may tell how fast the bus was going; and a GPS tracking device from a tractor-trailer that has been impounded.

At City Hall on Monday, two Democratic politicians asked the NTSB to go beyond its investigation of Saturday’s crash and examine the regulations governing low-cost tour buses in general.

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Rep. Nydia M. Velasquez released a letter to the board that said, “There is ample evidence that the incident involving World Wide Tours is not an isolated incident but rather just one example of an industry that in many cases is operating outside the bounds of city, state and federal transportation safety guidelines.”

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records listed World Wide Travel as having at least two other accidents in which people were injured in the past 24 months. The agency flagged the company for possible extra scrutiny because of violations involving driver fatigue regulations.


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