Reporting Dave Carlin
NEW YORK (CBS NewYork/AP) – The driver at the wheel of a tour bus that crashed and killed 15 people over the weekend has a criminal history that includes manslaughter and theft convictions, officials said.
On Monday the New York State Department of Correctional Services said Ophadell Williams, 40, was convicted of manslaughter for his role in a 1990 stabbing and served just over two years. He initially had been charged with second-degree murder in the case.
He also served about three years for grand larceny for removing an $83,905 check from a Police Athletic League fund in October 1997. Williams used aliases in both those cases. He was also arrested for driving without a license and having three police scanners in 2003.
The revelations about Williams prompted Gov. Andrew Cuomo to direct the state inspector general to look into how he was able to get a commercial driver’s license, 1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon reported.
National Transportation Safety Board officials also held another news conference late Monday afternoon restating that they wanted to gather as much information about what Williams was doing 72 hours prior to the accident.
“We want to know what he ate, what he drank, how much he slept,” said NTSB Vice Chairman Christopher Hart.
Investigators were also expected to interview Williams on Wednesday, WCBS 880′s Peter Haskell reported.
Friends that spoke with CBS 2′s Dave Carlin on Monday said they were unaware of Williams’ criminal record. One friend went as far as to say he respected Williams because he was a “good role model.”
On Monday night, friends told CBS 2′s Lou Young the driver was beside himself over the incident.
“He’s scared to death, man you know? He’s crying ’cause, you know, he hurt some people,” Mel Davis said.
The World Wide Tours bus left the Mohegan Sun Casino at 3:45 a.m. Saturday, headed south on I-95 and two hours later crashed near the Exit 14 ramp to the Hutchinson Parkway. A 70-year-old man who died Monday at St. Barnabas Hospital in The Bronx became the 15th fatality from the gruesome wreck.
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Williams had told police that his bus was cut off by a big rig and clipped just as it crossed the New York City line.
Hart said investigators were hearing from many witnesses. Sources said some passengers claim Williams had already swerved at times for no reason before the accident.
“We’re hearing so many stories, conflicting often times, and we need to get to the bottom of that,” Hart told CBS 2′s Tony Aiello.
CBS 2′s Dave Carlin spoke with at least one friend who entertained the possibility that Williams may have fallen asleep at the wheel.
“If he dozed off, he was working a double shift, triple shift — just trying to support his family,” Davis said.
The NTSB was relying on three key pieces of evidence to help patch together the moments leading up to the crash .
“We have a number of reports, some of whom are coming in saying that the driver was in fact operating southbound at a high rate of speed,” said Major Michael Kopy of the New York State Police.
Investigators hoped a rear-facing camera inside the tour bus along with a recording device called the engine control module, much like an airplane black box, will help tell them part of the story.
Investigators were also analyzing a GPS device from inside a tractor trailer that was behind the bus at the time of the crash.
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Sen. Charles Schumer has called for a crackdown on the discount tour bus companies Monday and is asking the NTSB to expand its probe to look into regulations and oversight that is currently in place.
“These low cost tour bus companies have an increasingly alarming safety record that should give pause to federal regulatory agencies,” Schumer said. “The safety regime in place is not sufficiently doing the job of protecting passengers.”
Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez wondered if the regulations have kept pace with a fast-growing industry.
“This is not about putting out of business this industry, this is about human life,” Velazquez said.
While no one has been charged, Kopy said “we’re conducting at this point as if in fact it is a criminal investigation. That said it is in the infant stages of the investigation.”
Investigators said they were asking any witnesses to come forward.
Below are the names of the deceased whose next of kin have been notified:
Aquino, Miguel, 55
Eng, Kam Ming, 81 – NYC
Eng, Yuk Chun – NYC
Garcia, Jose – NYC
Lee, Bing Fong – Brooklyn
Lee, Don, 76 – NYC
Mei, Biqin Tran Ninh
Wang, Jian Hua, 40
Wong, May Lin – NYC
Wong, Ock Thling, 83 – NYC
Xian, Yang T, NYC
Yeh, Michael, 65 – Brooklyn
Do you know any of the victims? Leave a comment below…