(New York, NY -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) A report by federal investigators says a tour bus that crashed on Interstate 95 in the Bronx last month was speeding at 78 miles per hour shortly before it struck a highway signpost, killing fifteen passengers. The bus was returning to New York on a pre-dawn trip from a Connecticut Casino.
Driver Ophadell Williams said the March 12 accident began when a tractor trailer truck cut him off and struck the bus. But investigators say they found no evidence of an impact between the bus and another vehicle. And sensors on the bus' engine show it was moving at top speed down a southbound lane of the Hutchinson River Parkway only 45 seconds before impact.
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According to the report, the bus swerved to the right off the highway, crossed an eleven-foot wide shoulder and smashed into a three-foot-tall steel guardrail. The bus plowed through the guardrail for 480 feet as it toppled onto its side. The bus' windshield hit the post of a massive highway sign, which sheared the bus in two along the base of the passenger windows almost all the way to the rear. The bus came to rest on top of the crushed guardrail, its wheels in the air, facing the highway.
The Bronx District Attorney has not yet decided whether to file charges against driver Ophadell Williams or World Wide Travel, the operator of the bus.
World Wide Travel has been in the motorcoach business since 1989. It operates 35 buses and employs 40 full-time and 35 part-time drivers. The company has had a contract with Mohegan Sun Casino to make fourteen daily round-trips between New York City and the casino in Uncasville, Connecticut. Williams was driving the return leg of that run when the accident occurred at 5:45 a.m.
The Federal Motorcoach Safety Administration gave the company a "satisfactory" rating in 2008, the last time it was reviewed. But World Wide Travel's current status with the FMCSA shows it finished in the bottom half of bus companies for violations in the category of driver fatigue. Inspectors found fatigued drivers on World Wide Travel buses five times during 27 inspections in 2009 and 2010.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it would have a full report on the accident by March of next year. In the meantime, two bills are pending in Congress that call for better background checks of long distance bus drivers and mandatory training to a national standard.
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