NEW YORK – Passengers and witnesses to a horrific 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 Travel bus was hit just as it crossed the New York City line early Saturday on a trip from the Mohegan Sun casino 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 Manhattan’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 stable condition Sunday and has not commented publicly. His family could not be reached.
As many as 20 passengers were treated at hospitals following the accident. Nine remained hospitalized at St. Barnabas Hospital and Jacobi Medical Center. Most were in critical condition.
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.
The National Transportation Safety Board has interviewed two passengers from the bus, but it hasn’t 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.
Hart said 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.