Updated 03/15/2011 09:08 PM
Investigators Question Driver In Fatal Bronx Bus Crash
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Federal investigators looking into Saturday's deadly tour bus crash in the Bronx have interviewed the man who was behind the wheel.
The National Transportation Safety Board says they spoke with Ophadell Williams for about three hours Tuesday.
The bus he was driving was traveling from the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut to Chinatown early Saturday morning when it crashed on the New York State Thruway, killing 15.
Two state officials tell the Associated Press that Williams should not have been behind the wheel. His license had been suspended in 1995 because he failed to respond to two tickets.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has launched a state investigation into how Williams was able to hold a valid commercial drivers’ license.
Williams also served two years in prison for manslaughter and has convictions for theft.
He was released from the hospital Sunday night and has not been charged in the bus crash.
Investigators zeroed in on Williams when witnesses and passengers contradicted his claim that the bus was sideswiped by a tractor trailer. Now they're trying to retrace Williams' steps before he got behind the wheel, to figure out what he ate and drank and how much he slept.
"We want to see if the driver had a room, for example, at the casino,” said National Transportation Safety Board Vice Chairman Christopher Hart. “We want to see if he used a room card. We'll be exploring all the sources of information we can because one of the areas we routinely gather information on after any accident like this is what was the driver doing the 72 hours prior to the accident."
The bus veered off the road Saturday morning, toppled on its side and slid into a highway sign that sliced through the top of the bus.
Fourteen died that day. A 70-year-old man died of his injuries Monday morning, raising the death toll to 15.
Four remain hospitalized in critical condition at Jacobi Medical Center. Another two are listed in fair condition at the hospital.
Officials at St. Barnabas say their final crash patient was likely to go home Tuesday.
One of those critically injured patients was reunited with his family Monday night. He had been unidentified since the crash.
Meantime, City Councilwoman Margaret Chin -- who represents Chinatown -- says the crash on the New England Thruway has left her community in mourning and continuing to ask why.
"I met one of the daughter of one of the victims that passed away. She just grabbed my hand and started crying. So it has been very, very sad," said Chin. "Hopefully we will come together and overcome this and bring about some better regulations and safety protection for passengers."
A representative from AAA told NY1 that anyone who is on a bus and feels the driver is driving erratically or appears to be drowsy should take action.
"Go up, politely tap him on the shoulder, and tell him to pull over. Don't tell him you'll keep him company and try to keep him awake until you get to your destination because again, he should not be sleepy," said Robert Sinclair Jr., the AAA manager of media relations. "If he refuses, get on the phone and call 911 and let them know your location, so that the authorities can deal properly with the driver in that condition."
Also Tuesday, the investigation was just beginning into another fatal Chinatown bus crash.
A bus heading from Chinatown to Philadelphia crashed on the New Jersey Turnpike Monday night – killing two people. It happened around 9 p.m. at Exit 9 in East Brunswick.
Police say the private charter went up onto the grass, hit an overpass support and then an embankment.
The driver, Wei Wang – a 50-year-old Taiwanese national from Forest Hills, Queens – was thrown through the windshield and killed.
Another man, Troy Nguyen, 20, of Royersford, Pa. died at the hospital.
Forty other passengers were also hospitalized.
It is still unclear what caused the crash.