A Chinatown bus driver blamed for a crash that killed 15 committed a crime by not getting enough sleep, a Bronx prosecutor charged today.
Ophadell Williams, 42, had been trained in the importance of getting enough sleep before going to work, Bronx assistant DA Gary Weil told jurors at the opening of Williams’ manslaughter trial.
“He knew the risk of driving while fatigued, and he ignored it,” Weil said.
“His sleep deprivation was so severe it affected his reflexes as if he were driving while intoxicated.”
Williams — an ex-con with a checkered driving record — tested clean for drugs and alcohol after the March 12, 2011 crash of his World Wide Travel bus.
A National Transportation Safety Board investigation mostly blamed the accident on Williams’ failure to get enough sleep in the days before.
“This was no mere tragic accident, but a criminal act,” Weil said.
Williams’ lawyer, Patrick Bruno, called the DA’s case weak. “I see no criminality here,” he said before today’s court session.
“I look forward to trying the case and walking out of the front door with my client.”
The bus was headed to New York from the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut when it crashed into a signpost on the Thruway at about 5:38 a.m.
Moments before it crashed, the bus was traveling at 78 mph in a 50 mph zone, say investigators.
Williams had gotten a few hours of sleep on the bus before the trip — but not enough to prevent the tragedy, investigators said.
Eighteen people were injured in the crash – including one man who lost both his arms as he raised them to protect his head, Weil said.