The driver in a deadly casino tour bus crash in the Bronx should never have climbed behind the wheel, officials said Tuesday.
Ophadell Williams, a Brooklyn man with a 1992 manslaughter conviction, was not supposed to be driving because he had never resolved several traffic tickets. The bus he was driving Saturday morning on Interstate 95 swerved, flipped on its side, skidded along a guardrail and was sliced open lengthwise by a steel signpost. Fifteen of the passengers have died. Seven remained hospitalized Tuesday, four in critical condition.
Williams, 40, of Bushwick, has been released from St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx.
He was ticketed in 1995 for speeding and twice for driving without a license, giving police the alias "Erik Williams," according to two state officials familiar with the investigation. They spoke to Newsday on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose details of the probe.
Williams' driving privileges were suspended after he failed to address the moving violations. As a result, he could not legally drive in the state.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board Tuesday sought to interview Williams, and the state inspector general undertook a probe requested by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo into how Williams obtained and held on to his commercial driver's license.
"Our investigation will examine how Ophadell Williams was able to obtain his commercial driver license despite past problems and whether additional controls are needed to protect the public," Inspector General Ellen Biben said in a statement.
While the NTSB team was scheduled to speak with Williams Tuesday, agency spokesman Peter Knudson Tuesday night said he could not confirm that they had interviewed him.
Williams could not be reached Tuesday. The bus company, World Wide Travel, did not respond to a request for comment.
Williams told State Police he swerved after he was clipped by a tractor trailer. The driver of that truck, who contacted police on his own, is being considered a witness, not a suspect, said State Police Investigator Joseph Becerra.
Passengers have told police that Williams was driving erratically before the crash, police have said.
Meanwhile, New Jersey State Police examined the wreckage from another fatal tour bus crash, this one on the New Jersey Turnpike involving a bus headed from Chinatown in Manhattan to Philadelphia. The Monday night accident killed the driver and a passenger and badly injured several others. The cause of that crash has not been determined.
The New Jersey crash amplified calls for a review of safety regulations governing tour buses.
World Wide Travel and Super Luxury Tours Inc., the Pennsylvania-based owner of the bus that crashed in New Jersey, each had two other crashes involving injury during the past 24 months, according to records from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Both companies had been rated "satisfactory" by the agency, though World Wide Travel had been flagged for closer scrutiny because of driver fatigue violations.The revelations about Williams' traffic violations and the "second crash in just four days make a thorough, industry-wide review of bus safety standards by NTSB even more important," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.