By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
MANHATTAN — Preliminary findings of a federal investigation into a deadly tour bus crash in the Bronx contradict claims made by the bus driver that he was sideswiped by a passing truck, causing the grisly wreck that killed 15 people.
The head of the National Transportation Safety Board told a Senate subcommittee Wednesday that no evidence was found to support driver Ophadell Williams' claims that a tractor-trailer collided with his Chinatown-bound bus on March 12, forcing it to flip and slam into a highway sign.
Testifying at a hearing on motorcoach safety, NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman noted that an engineer examining the tractor-trailer found no evidence to indicate it had come in contact with the bus, which was traveling at speeds of up to 78 miles per hour.
The driver of the tractor-trailer turned himself in following the incident and said he witnessed the crash occur in front of him, Hersman added. A video camera mounted on the bus's windshield did not record the accident.
Following the March 12 crash, another bus originating in Chinatown crashed on the New Jersey Turnpike on March 14, killing two and injuring dozens more.
The accidents led the state Department of Motor Vehicles to begin cracking down on tour bus drivers, arresting 13 last week for allegedly using aliases to obtain commercial driver licenses.
Williams, the driver of the Bronx bus, had his license suspended after a state investigation revealed he allegedly lied about the status of his license, possibly to cover the fact that he had been using multiple aliases and had a suspension under one of those names.
Two passengers riding on the bus have filed multimillion-dollar lawsuits this week against the bus company and driver for negligence.
The NTSB is still investigating the cause of the wreck, and has recommended a series of changes to prevent similar accidents, including stronger roofs, a redesign of window emergency exits, and technological improvements like lane-departure warnings, electronic stability control and forward-collision warning systems.