A tour bus driver charged with killing 15 passengers during a trip from a Connecticut casino to New York City was found guilty of one count of aggravated unlicensed driving on Friday, December 7, 2012, according to information received by New York City wrongful death attorney Jonathan C Reiter. Ophadell Williams was acquitted of manslaughter and negligent homicide.
Williams wept as the verdict was read, which resulted in a sentence of only 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.
The defendant argued through the trial that he was awake and alert while driving the bus, and claimed the crash was not the result of reckless behavior or extreme exhaustion. He said a tractor-trailer cut his bus off, causing him to swerve and hit a guardrail. Investigators never found any proof to that claim though.
Williams’ lawyer explained that Williams was wracked with guilt over the incident, but was not guilty of manslaughter.
“He had great faith that he would be vindicated,” his lawyer explained outside the courthouse. “He said, ‘Thank you so much. I knew that they would do the right thing’…His wife and sister hugged and kissed me and said: ‘Thank you. This is the greatest Christmas and birthday gift of all.’”
The lawyer also stated the verdict made an important legal stand, stating:
“It’s saying that if you are going to try and make fatigue – sleepiness – a criminal issue in a motor vehicle accident, you have a lot, lot more to prove.”
The crash occurred on March 12, 2011, on Interstate 95 at daybreak. Williams was transporting a busload of gamblers to Manhattan’s Chinatown from Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Connecticut. The bus crashed right at the Bronx border. The bus struck a guardrail, toppled over and hit a signpost that tore open the top before skittering to a stop.
The victims were mostly Chinese men and women over the age of 40 years. Survivors of the crash testified in court, including a man who spoke of how he lost both arms when he raised them up instinctively as the bus crashed. The individual was hospitalized for nearly a month.
Williams faced a maximum of 7 ½ to 15 years in prison, had he been found guilty.
The not guilty verdict does not preclude a finding of negligence in a civil suit for damages. Both the driver and the bus company are potentially liable for the serious injuries and deaths caused by the accident, adds NY wrongful death lawyer, Jonathan C Reiter.
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