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Bus Crash Driver’s License Suspended 18 Times, NTSB Says

The driver in a New York bus crash that killed 15 people had his driver’s license suspended 18 times and was fired from two previous transportation jobs, according to investigative documents released today.

The driver, Ophadell Williams, was also involved in an accident on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway three days before the March 12, 2011, crash, in which a World Wide Travel of Greater New York bus returning from the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut flipped and hit a sign post, shearing off the roof.

“The fact that he had a crash on a bus three days prior and they still were allowing him to drive is indicative of a company that puts profits ahead of passenger safety,” Henry Jasny, vice president of the Washington-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said in a phone interview.

The National Transportation Safety Board released the information today ahead of a hearing scheduled in June to determine causes of the accident. The Bronx crash was the first of three fatal bus accidents that spurred a renewed focus on safety by the U.S. Transportation Department and Congress.

At least 28 people died in crashes last year as a proliferation of discount lines in East Coast cities made buses the fastest-growing form of U.S. commercial transportation.

‘Unsatisfactory’ Rating

Williams was charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide after the accident, according to a Sept. 1 statement from Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson. Sean H. Rooney, a lawyer representing Williams, didn’t immediately return a phone call today seeking comment.

Williams told investigators that a semi-trailer truck veered into his lane and hit his bus, running it off the road. Investigators couldn’t find any evidence of a collision prior to the accident, a preliminary NTSB examination found.

World Wide Travel was rejected for a U.S. Defense Department contract to carry military personnel in 2009, according to the safety board records.

The U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates bus safety, ranked the company “unsatisfactory” in a post-accident review, investigators found. World Wide Travel was shut down after the crash and is inactive, according to agency records.

The regulator found that the company had an accident rate of 5.7 per million miles traveled. The agency classifies firms with rates above 1.2 as “unsatisfactory.”

Talking, Sleeping, Driving

The bus driver had little sleep during the three days prior to the crash, according to the safety board records.

He was working through the nights, ferrying gamblers to and from a casino. Williams’ mobile phone records showed numerous calls during times he said he slept between shifts, according to the safety board. He also was operating a rental car during those periods, the records show.

He said he slept from midnight to about 3:20 a.m. in his bus on the day of the accident, according to the safety board reports.

“Fatigue is a big problem in the bus and motor-coach industry, as well as the commercial trucking industry,” Jasny said.

Williams previously was fired from jobs with Coach USA, a unit of Perth, Scotland-based Stagecoach Group Plc, and the New York Metropolitan Transit Agency, the National Transportation Safety Board found. The latter firing occurred for his failure to report two criminal convictions on his job application, according to records.

Moving Violations

Williams’ history of driving violations dates to 1990, when he was 17. He was cited three times from 1990 to 1994 for driving without a license, according to the NTSB. The initial case led to his license being suspended repeatedly by New York authorities after he failed to appear at court hearings, according to the NTSB.

From the time he received a license in 1995 through 2003, he was cited seven times for violations ranging from improper passing to failure to obey a stop sign, according to the records. During that period, his license was revoked five separate times.

After a three-year period of no violations, he received a commercial license in 2006.

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