NY starts spot check of tour buses after crash

AP News
Posted: Mar 17, 2011 8:11 PM

Days after a fatal tour bus crash in the Bronx, New York on Thursday started a statewide tour bus inspection that sidelined eight drivers for various violations, including log book infractions, from the 36 vehicles inspected.

New York State Police and the state Department of Transportation issued eight tickets as part of the enhanced commercial vehicle inspection effort at stops in northern New York, on Long Island and in the Catskills.

"Through this focused enforcement, we will work to ensure compliance and deter distracted, fatigued, unsafe and impaired driving," said state police Superintendent Joseph D'Amico. "Our troopers will not tolerate driving behaviors that pointlessly put other highway users in danger."

The inspections began as Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office released motor vehicle data to investigators regarding the bus driver involved in the crash that killed 15 people last weekend.

"Today, the Department of Motor Vehicles turned over information to the New York State Police and the state inspector general regarding evidence of false statements given by Ophadell Williams, and has suspended, effective immediately, his driving privileges," said Howard Glaser, director of state operations.

"The information the DMV is referring for investigation includes driver license applications containing false statements about the status of his license and whether this was done to conceal the fact that he had been using multiple names and had a suspension under one of those names," Glaser said in a statement. "The investigation is active and ongoing."

A man who answered a phone listed for Williams immediately hung up on a reporter who asked for him.

In New York City, some of the first emergency workers to reach the scene of the crash were being questioned Thursday by investigators from the state police and the National Transportation Safety Board.

The bus ran off the road Saturday along Interstate 95 in the Bronx as it was returning to New York's Chinatown from an overnight trip to a Connecticut casino. The bus tipped on its side and slammed into a pole that sheared it nearly end to end.

Some key questions remain unanswered. Investigators haven't released drug and alcohol tests on the driver's blood. They also haven't said whether evidence has been found to support the driver's contention that he was clipped by a passing tractor-trailer.

Williams was ticketed in 1995 for speeding and twice for driving without a license, giving police the alias Erik Williams, state officials told The Associated Press on Monday. Williams' driving privileges were suspended, meaning he couldn't legally drive in the state, after he failed to address the charges. Williams also had an incomplete log book, required of commercial drivers, said the officials, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.

Amid the revelations, Cuomo directed the state inspector general to begin an investigation. The bus company that employed Williams has declined to comment during the federal investigation.

In Thursday's spot check by state police and transportation officials, 10 buses were inspected at the Champlain Border Crossing in northern New York, where two drivers were sidelined for having no log book. Log books are required by law to keep track of how long drivers have been behind the wheel. One ticket was issued.

At the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, five buses were inspected, with two drivers sidelined for log book infractions.

And at the Catskills stop in Monticello, 21 buses were inspected, six drivers were sidelined and seven tickets were issued. It was not immediately clear why.

The stops were all near gambling facilities. No further details on the inspections were released.

Additional stops are planned for the next several weeks at undisclosed locations and times.