March 13, 2011 in Nation/World

Casino bus crashes, killing 14

Driver told police he was trying to avoid swerving truck
Jim Fitzgerald Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, in leather jacket, speaks with emergency personnel investigating the scene of a bus crash in the Bronx on Saturday.
(Full-size photo)

HAWTHORNE, N.Y. – A tour bus returning from a casino at daybreak Saturday scraped along a guard rail, tipped on its side and slammed into a pole that sheared it nearly end to end, leaving a jumble of bodies and twisted metal along Interstate 95. Fourteen passengers were killed.

The bus had just reached the outskirts of New York City on a journey from the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut when the crash happened. The driver told police he lost control trying to avoid a swerving tractor-trailer.

The crash happened at 5:35 a.m., with some of the 31 passengers still asleep. The bus scraped along the guard rail 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. Most people aboard were hurled to the front of the bus on impact, said Chief Edward Kilduff of the Fire Department of New York.

State police Maj. Micheal Kopy said at a news conference Saturday night in Hawthorne, N.Y., that the crash was being handled “as if it is a criminal investigation.”

“It will take a long period of time to determine what, if any, criminal acts may have occurred here,” he said.

He identified the driver as Ophadel Williams, 40, of Brooklyn, N.Y., whom he said was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Kopy said blood had been drawn from the driver for analysis and that state police were working with authorities in Connecticut and Mohegan Sun officials to determine what the driver’s activities were before the accident.

“At this point it appears that the operator lost control of the vehicle for what is as yet an undetermined reason,” Kopy said.

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said police were still looking for the truck, which did not stop after the crash. He said the truck was in a lane to the bus’s left, although it was unclear whether the two vehicles touched.

Kelly said both the bus and the rig were both moving at “a significant rate of speed.”

State police said they were interviewing the driver of a tractor-trailer that was in the area at the time of the crash. They said the trailer had been located on Long Island and the tractor was found in Westchester County. He said investigators were trying to determine the speed the bus was traveling before the crash, which occurred in a 55 mph zone. A device that can record such information, similar to a flight data recorder on an airplane, was expected to be examined overnight.

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