By MELANIE GOLDBERG & CADITA ROUSSEAU
The jury began deliberating Tuesday the fate of the driver accused of causing one of the deadliest bus crashes in the Bronx.
The driver, Ophadell Williams pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide while prosecutors charged that he put lives at risk by driving at least 30 miles over the speed limit when he was sleep-deprived.
Witnesses to the World Wide Tours bus crash testified that the bus had been “straddling lanes “ and “driving erratically” finally smashing into a pole at about 4 a.m. in March, 2011, peeling the roof off the bus, killing 15 passengers and injuring 18 others.
The bus had been traveling on Interstate 95 in the Bronx from Mohegan Sun in Connecticut to Chinatown when the accident occurred.
In June, the National Transportation Safety Board said that the accident was probably caused by driver fatigue and that the bus company had provided too little safety oversight, but never said that Williams had fallen asleep at the wheel. Williams admitted to taking naps on the bus while the passengers gambled, and had had almost no sleep in the days before the crash. He also testified that a tractor trailer had cut him off, causing the crash. Investigators found no evidence to support this statement, but instead found Williams to be driving 78 mph in a 50 mph zone.
“If he has any responsibility — and emphasize if – it’s something to get settled with money, not with going to jail,” said Defense Attorney Patrick Bruno at the trial.
If convicted, Williams faced up to 15 years in prison. The NTSB also said the bus company, World Wide Tours, was to blame for not providing sufficient safety oversight.