Ray Kelly
DAVID KARP  /  AP
New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly speaks with emergency personnel investigating the scene of a bus crash on Interstate-95 in the Bronx borough of New York Saturday/
By
updated 3/13/2011 7:08:30 PM ET 2011-03-13T23:08:30

Passengers and witnesses to a horrific New York City crash that sheared the top off a bus and killed 14 people told investigators that the driver's account of getting clipped by a tractor-trailer didn't match up to what they felt and saw before the vehicle slid off the road and into a sign pole.

Driver Ophadell Williams had told police that his World Wide Tours bus was hit just as it crossed the New York City line early Saturday on a trip from the Mohegan Sun casino in in Connecticut.
But passengers said Williams had already swerved at times to the right for no reason before the accident, a law-enforcement official said Sunday. The official wasn't authorized to speak publicly about the probe and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The bus was returning to New York's Chinatown after a quick overnight trip to the casino. The official said that passengers said they didn't feel anything hit them and that other motorists on Interstate 95 said they didn't see the bus get hit. The official said police spoke to the tractor-trailer driver, who said he was following the bus.

Williams remained hospitalized in serious condition Sunday and has not commented publicly. His family could not be reached.

    1. Hoffman withdrew $1,200 hours before death: sources

      Philip Seymour Hoffman withdrew a total of $1,200 from an ATM at a supermarket near his New York City apartment the night before he was found lifeless in his bathroom with a syringe still in his left arm, sources told NBC News.

    2. NYC mayor will skip St. Pat's parade over gay ban
    3. Indiana man back home 18 years after abduction
    4. 32 states in the path of another wild storm
    5. Judge vows quick ruling on Va. marriage ban

As many as 20 passengers were treated at hospitals following the accident. Six remained hospitalized Sunday, according to a statement from Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. All were in critical condition.

Officials at Jacobi were still trying to identify one passenger, an Asian man in his 50s, said spokeswoman Barbara DeIorio.

"He's very injured, he's not able to communicate yet," she said, adding that the man was in the surgical intensive care unit.

  1. Only on NBCNews.com
    1. OWN via Getty Images
      From belief to betrayal: How America fell for Armstrong
    2. pool via Reuters file
      US to Syria neighbors: Be ready to act on WMDs
    3. China: One-child policy is here to stay
    4. NRA: Practice Range
      New 'Practice Range' shooter game says it’s from NRA
    5. 'Gifted' priest indicted in crystal meth case
    6. AFP - Getty Images
      China's state media admits to air pollution crisis
    7. AFP - Getty Images
      French to send 1,000 more troops to Mali

The 14 victims — eight men and six women — all died of blunt force trauma, said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the New York City medical examiner's office. She said the office was working with family members to identify them.

Video: Passengers: Driver drifted before fatal N.Y. crash

The National Transportation Safety Board has interviewed two passengers from the bus, but they have not yet spoken to the bus driver or the driver of the truck, Vice Chairman Christopher Hart said at a news conference late Sunday.

He said the investigation was still in its early stages, but the NTSB plans to talk to the bus company to see what kind of fatigue management the company has in place. Investigators will also look into the casino's records to see whether the driver checked into a room there.

The NTSB will analyze three devices: a camera mounted in the bus facing the passengers; an engine control module, which may tell how fast the bus was going; and a GPS tracking device from the tractor-trailer, said Hart.

Some of the 31 passengers were still asleep when the bus crashed at 5:35 a.m. Saturday. The bus scraped along the guardrail for 300 feet, toppled and crashed into the support pole for a highway sign indicating the exit for the Hutchinson Parkway. The pole knifed through the bus front to back along the window line, peeling the roof off all the way to the back tires.

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

Mohegan Sun, in Uncasville, Conn., has estimated a fifth of its business comes from Asian spending and caters to Chinese-American gamblers. Its website has a Chinese-language section offering gaming and bus promotions.

The trips between New York City's Chinatown and regional casinos are popular, said Eddie Chiu, who runs the Lin Sing Association, a community outreach group.

He said in the past three years, there have been a handful of serious accidents involving discount buses taking people from New York's Chinese community to casinos.

"The drivers tell me that they're often very tired," he said, adding that salaries are low and drivers work long hours.

Calls to World Wide Tours seeking information on Williams' service record or how long he had been with the company were not immediately returned.

The accident tossed passengers all around the bus, with most people hurled to the front of the bus on impact, authorities said.

Many of the passengers on the bus were Chinatown residents. They ranged in age from 20 to 50, officials said.

Chinatown community organizations offered to help victims' families cope with their loss.

Oanfa Quan, who runs a company that provides wigs and medical prostheses, said she was working with the Lin Sing Association to provide wigs in case some of the victims need them for burial.

"Usually the family wants it for their own peace of mind," she said. "Even if the casket is closed, they still want to know that their loved one looks the way they were prior to the accident."

___

Associated Press writers Verena Dobnik in New York and Karen Matthews in New Rochelle, N.Y., contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Officials probe cause of deadly NYC bus crash

  1. Transcript of: Officials probe cause of deadly NYC bus crash

    JENNA WOLFE, co-host: We're learning new details this morning about yesterday's bus crash in New York that killed at least 14 people. The accident was sudden and it was horrific. NBC 's Mara Schiavocampo joins us for more. Mara , good morning.

    MARA SCHIAVOCAMPO reporting: Good morning, Jenna . Well, authorities say a tractor trailer may have been involved, but at the same time they're exploring whether the driver was at fault. In the blink of an eye early Saturday morning, a weekend leisure trip turned to tragedy. Officials say the Worldwide Tours bus was returning from a casino in Connecticut when it swerved, possibly to avoid a tractor trailer, crashing into the guardrail and skidding 300 feet before flipping onto its side and sliding into a signpost. The pole sliced the bus nearly in half, killing more than a dozen and injuring all 32 passengers on board, a scene that horrified onlookers.

    Mr. HOMER MARTINEZ (Limo Driver): They say, 'This is horrible. You no want to take a look at this.' Many of them, I believe they weren't even crying because oh my God, oh my God.

    SCHIAVOCAMPO: But law enforcement sources tell NBC News some passengers say the bus driver , identified as Ophadell E. Williams , may be to blame, as he was driving erratically before the crash, claims officials are investigating.

    Mr. JOSEPH D'AMICO (New York State Police Superintendent): Going forward, our forensic teams and our accident reconstruction teams will be working to interview witnesses and try to pull together pieces of what actually occurred here.

    SCHIAVOCAMPO: Piecing together exactly what happened in an accident that shattered so many lives. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration , drivers from the bus company , Worldwide Tours , have previously been cited for fatigue driving. The company released a statement Saturday afternoon saying they are heartbroken about what happened and will fully cooperate with investigators.

    Jenna: All right. Devastating story.

    WOLFE:

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments