Second rider sues, says driver caused NY bus crash

AP News
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Posted: Mar 24, 2011 2:58 PM
Second rider sues, says driver caused NY bus crash

Passengers are challenging a bus driver's contention that he was well-rested and alert the morning his tour bus crashed into a pole in New York, killing 15 people on board.

In a lawsuit, Erold Jean Marie alleges driver Ophadell Williams was asleep at the wheel when the bus crashed on March 12 while returning from the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Conn.

Jean Marie was sitting in the back of the bus and saw the vehicle veer onto the rumble strip three times in a 20-minute period before the crash on Interstate 95, Herb Subin, his lawyer, said Thursday. He said Jean Marie did not see a tractor-trailer swerve toward the bus, as the driver has said.

The bus flipped on its side, and its roof was sheared off by a sign stanchion. Jean Marie suffered injuries to his shoulder and spine but was able to crawl out through the torn roof, Subin said.

"People were decapitated. You couldn't make a horror film that was nearly this bad," Subin said.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in a Brooklyn court and is the second such court case since the crash; more are likely to follow.

The driver's lawyer, Sean Rooney, has disputed the passengers' accounts, saying that Williams was rested and had swerved to avoid a tractor-trailer.

"He doesn't drink, he doesn't even smoke. He takes his job very seriously and he was alert, and is a great driver," Rooney said.

He said police tested Williams' breath and blood for alcohol, and the tests were negative.

State police said soon after the crash that witnesses reported the driver had been speeding. And state officials say they have evidence of false statements from Williams.

Williams was convicted of crimes using two aliases, state officials say. He served just more than two years for manslaughter for his role in a stabbing in 1990, according to state corrections records. He also served about three years, from 1998 to the middle of 2002, for grand larceny for removing an $83,905 check from a Police Athletic League fund.

He also was arrested by New York City police on June 4, 2003, for driving with a suspended license and for possession of three police radios. In 1987, he was arrested on charges of trying to get on public transportation without paying.

Rooney said Williams had tried to put his criminal past behind him and was dedicated to being a good driver.

"He redeemed himself for his mistakes made years ago," Rooney said. "His life was straight. He was doing well until this horrible accident."

New York state has stepped up inspections of tour buses since the crash. Dozens of buses have been taken out of service after police found problems with logbooks, licenses or equipment.

Jean Marie is demanding $200 million in damages. The other passenger who sued, 74-year-old Yuke Chue Lo, is asking for $20 million.