NEW YORK (AP) — The driver of a tour bus that crashed on a highway while returning to Manhattan’s Chinatown from a casino, killing 15 people, claims he was sober, rested, and fully awake when the accident happened, his lawyer said.
Ophadell Williams was in control of the bus until a tractor-trailer veered toward it on Interstate 95, attorney Sean H. Rooney told The New York Times. The driver claims he lost control after swerving to avoid the truck, Rooney said.
“This is, plain and simple, an accident, a tragic one,” Rooney said in an interview published on the newspaper’s website Wednesday night.
Rooney scoffed at reports passengers told police that the bus, which was returning from the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut, repeatedly swerved onto the highway shoulder before the March 12 crash. He called the reports “a lot of nonsense” and said Williams “doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t drink, and he doesn’t do drugs.”
Police tested Williams’ breath for alcohol three times and found no traces, Rooney added. Investigators are looking into whether Williams was asleep or distracted at the wheel. He has not been charged criminally.
A 74-year-old woman who survived the tour bus crash claims the driver was speeding and fell asleep.
Yuke Chue Lo, of Manhattan, made the allegations in a lawsuit against Williams and the bus company, World Wide Tours. It’s the first known lawsuit stemming from the crash, and more are likely to follow.
Lo’s lawyer, Andrew Finkelstein, said Wednesday that Lo suffered a fractured skull and a brain injury when the bus flipped over and was ripped apart by a sign pole. He said Lo underwent several surgeries before being released this week from a hospital in the Bronx. He said Lo is seeking $20 million in damages.
Messages left Wednesday at World Wide and at Williams’ home were not immediately returned.
Finkelstein said Lo told him that Williams was “driving erratically, moving back and forth at excessive speed.” He said the bus company is being sued because it engaged in “reckless conduct in failing to properly hire, train, and oversee” its drivers.
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, in his only public comments since the crash, told NBC’s New York affiliate on Monday that he was “having a difficult time.” He said he was having trouble breathing and was “really hurt about the whole situation.” ♦