DA: Bus driver in Bronx fatal ignored risks

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The driver of a tour bus that crashed in a horrific accident last year in the Bronx, killing 15 passengers, knew the risks of fatigue and drove anyway despite a serious lack of sleep, prosecutors said Thursday as his manslaughter trial began.

Ophadell Williams had years of experience driving a bus, and simply should've known better, Assistant District Attorney Gary Weil said.

"This crime didn't have to happen," he said. "This is not a driver who maybe gets too little sleep. This is a professional, responsible bus operator."

Williams, 41, dressed in a gray suit, mostly looked down and wrote on a yellow legal pad while Weil spoke. Defense attorney Patrick Bruno said outside court that Williams was not fatigued.

"I sincerely believe that he had as much sleep as many other people routinely have," he said.

Bruno said his client was a hero, helping injured passengers from the wreck even though he was injured. He said any driver could have ended up in his position -- and it was wrong to charge him criminally. He compared Williams' job to that of a firefighter, police officer or nurse who works long, fatiguing off-hours.

"But for the grace of God go I . . . you could be in that seat," he told the jury. "That's what bothers me, and let it bother you, too."

The March 12, 2011, crash happened on Interstate 95 at daybreak as Williams, employed by World Wide Tours of Greater New York, was ferrying gamblers to Manhattan's Chinatown from the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Conn.

The victims were mostly men and women older than 40 who were regulars at casinos.

"At the scene lay 13 people in a makeshift morgue, covered up, pulled from the wreckage," Weil said. "They died instantly, in a horrific crash caused by the reckless and criminally negligent behavior of that man -- Ophadell Williams."

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The bus struck a guardrail, then toppled over and hit a signpost that opened the top like a sardine can before skittering to a stop.

Williams pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. He is being held in Rikers Island because his family cannot post $250,000 bail. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 71/2 years to 15 years in prison.

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