Bus driver Ophadell Williams (aka Erick Williams) has been indicted and arrested in connection with a deadly bus crash that occurred March 12, 2011 on the New England Thruway near Co-op City that killed 15 people and injured 15 others.
The indictment is the result of an exhaustive five month long investigation conducted jointly by the Bronx District Attorney’s Office and the New York State Police with assistance from the NYPD.
The grand jury charged Williams, 40, of 1281 Herkimer St., Brooklyn, with 15 counts of second degree manslaughter and 15 counts of criminally negligent homicide in the deaths of 15 passengers, seven counts of second degree assault and 16 counts of third degree assault for injuries to 15 other passengers.
The grand jury also charged Williams with one count of reckless driving and one count of third degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.
Williams surrendered to New York State Police and was arraigned before State Supreme Court Justice George Villegas who set bail at $250,000.
Independent of the indictment of Williams, in the Bronx, State Inspector General Ellen Biben released an investigative report that alleges was was able to exploit weaknesses in the state regulatory system and obtain a commercial bus driver license and employment with tour bus operators despite the fact that his driving privileges were suspended.
By using different names and submitting false or misleading information to law enforcement, State agencies and prospective employers, Ophadell Williams Jr., 40, of Brooklyn, was able to conceal significant aspects of his driving and criminal history.
Because of limitations in the State Department of Motor Vehicle’s procedures and the inadequate information available to them from other government agencies, licensing officials were unable to connect Williams to records they maintained on him under a different first name but with the same date of birth and address.
While it remains possible or even likely Williams would have been able to obtain and retain a license to drive a bus regardless of his past, new steps need to be taken for bus companies and licensing authorities to access all information necessary to determine a prospective driver’s qualifications and fitness.
The Inspector General’s report found state licensing and regulating of commercial bus drivers needs to be strengthened, and it recommends several administrative and legislative reforms.
At the time of the crash, Williams had three open suspensions to his driving privileges under an alias, Eric Williams. While some state agencies were aware of his alias, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which issued his license, was not.
He also had a criminal record including first-degree manslaughter and grand larceny, neither of which would prohibit somebody from obtaining a license to drive a commercial passenger bus in New York under current law.