MANHATTAN — The driver of a Chinatown-bound bus that crashed in The Bronx earlier this year, killing 15 people, pleaded not guilty Thursday to multiple charges of manslaughter in the horrific crash.
A Bronx grand jury indicted driver Ophadell Williams, 40, of Brooklyn, on 15 counts of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in the wreck, which occurred on I-95 as the coach returned from a Connecticut casino March 12.
Passengers on the bus reported seeing the driver fall asleep behind the wheel prior to the early-morning crash. Williams maintained he was awake and that a tractor-trailer clipped the coach, causing the wreck.
A federal investigation revealed the bus was traveling at 78 mph — its maximum speed — less than a minute before the crash. The posted speed limit was 55 miles per hour. Investigators also found no evidence that the bus was clipped by the tractor-trailer.
Bronx DA Robert Johnson said that the incident was "completely avoidable."
"As the charges indicate, this defendant stands accused of recklessly causing multiple deaths and injuries to his passengers in that he recognized the risk that his conduct posed to their safety and well being of others, and yet chose to ignore that risk," he said in a statement.
"Taking the proper precautions to safeguard these passengers was his responsibility and easily achievable."
Williams, who was being held on $250,000 bail, is also charged with 23 counts of assault for injuries to 15 other passengers, as well as one count each of reckless driving and aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.
He faces up to 15 years in prison if he is convicted of manslaughter.