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Bus driver cleared of most charges

Dec. 7, 2012 at 2:30 PM   |   Comments

NEW YORK, Dec. 7 (UPI) -- A bus driver who was at the wheel in one of the worst crashes in New York City history was acquitted Friday of manslaughter and other felony charges.

Jurors found Ophadell Williams, 41, guilty of a single misdemeanor, operating a motor vehicle without a valid license, The New York Times reported. The jury found him not guilty of 53 charges, including negligent homicide and manslaughter.

Prosecutors had argued Williams was driving without adequate sleep, making him criminally responsible for the deaths of 15 passengers and severe injuries suffered by others.

Williams, employed as a driver by World Wide Tours, was returning from a trip to the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut in March 2011 when he hit a signpost on Interstate 95 in The Bronx. The post, which broke off, sliced the bus open.

During the two-month trial, prosecutors presented witnesses in an effort to prove Williams had had little sleep in the days before the crash and had been driving erratically. The driver's lawyer, Patrick Bruno, who presented no witnesses, said the bus had been cut off by a truck, precipitating the crash.

Williams, unable to make $250,000 bail, has been in jail for more than a year. The jury reached a verdict late Thursday but the judge delayed its announcement until the next day.

Williams appeared teary-eyed and emotional, shielding his face with his hands, when he learned of his acquittal.

The passenger bus business has expanded in recent years, with new companies luring riders with discount fares and onboard WiFi. There have been other recent fatal crashes, many of them blamed on driver fatigue.

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