Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Driver in deadly bus crash acquitted

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NEW YORK -- A tour bus driver who prosecutors said was all but asleep at the wheel was acquitted Friday of manslaughter and negligent homicide in a crash last year that killed 15 gamblers on their way from a Connecticut casino to Chinatown in New York City's borough of Queens in March 2011.

Ophadell Williams was found guilty of one count of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. The judge sentenced him to 30 days in prison, which he has served. He also was ordered to pay a fee of $500.

The crash wracked Chinatown, where many of the passengers lived. At the time, about 30,000 Chinese New Yorkers were taking discount buses from Chinatown to casinos each week.

City Coun. Margaret Chin, who represents the neighbourhood, said "justice has not been served in this case."

Williams argued throughout the trial that he had been awake and alert, and the crash was not the result of reckless behaviour or extreme exhaustion. He said a tractor-trailer cut him off, causing him to swerve and hit a guardrail. But investigators could find no indication that had occurred.

His lawyer had said he was wracked with guilt over the crash -- but not guilty of manslaughter.

"It happened as a motor vehicle accident, not as some crime," said Williams' lawyer, Patrick Bruno. "He tried to avoid tragedy and tragedy occurred."

Bruno said the verdict is "saying that if you are going to try and make fatigue -- sleepiness -- a criminal legal issue in a motor vehicle accident, you have a lot, lot more to prove."

Florence Wong, who lost her father, 76-year-old Don Lee, told reporters she still believes Williams is responsible for the lives lost in the accident.

"I do not agree with the jury, but I respect their decision because they did look at the evidence and they came out with a verdict," she said.

Prosecutor Garry Wiel alleged Williams was so sleep-deprived from working another job during the day that it affected his reflexes the same as if he were intoxicated behind the wheel.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 8, 2012 A24

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