Reporting from New York — The driver of a tour bus that crashed on an expressway early Saturday, killing at least 14 people, said he lost control after being clipped by a tractor-trailer that didn't stop as the bus veered across the road, tipped onto its side and slid hundreds of feet before being sliced nearly in half by a metal post.
On Saturday evening, state police said they were questioning the driver of a tractor-trailer who had been in the vicinity of the pre-dawn crash and were inspecting his vehicle, which was found in two places: the tractor was in Westchester County, north of New York City, and the trailer was found on Long Island.
Maj. Michael Kopy of the New York State Police said the question of the tractor-trailer's possible involvement in the crash was one of many to be resolved in what he described as a "criminal investigation … in the very infant stages."
Police also are investigating witness claims that the driver of the bus, which had left a casino in Connecticut at 3:45 a.m. for a nearly three-hour trip back to New York's Chinatown, was driving too fast or might have been fatigued or distracted. Kopy said investigators had gone to the Mohegan Sun casino to speak with people who may have seen the bus driver, and they also planned to view video from a surveillance camera inside the bus.
The driver, Ophadell Williams, 40, of New York, was among more than a dozen people who remained hospitalized Saturday night. His injuries were described as non-life-threatening, but several people remained in critical condition with injuries that included brain trauma, severed limbs, skull fractures and internal injuries. Passengers' ages ranged from about 20 to 50, and most were from Chinatown, where there are several pickup and drop-off points for discount-fare buses that make regular runs to popular gambling spots such as Atlantic City and the Mohegan Sun.
"I've been driving a limo a lot of years; I've witnessed a lot of accidents — but I've never seen something of this magnitude," said Homer Martinez, who was driving in the northbound lanes of Interstate 95 when the crash occurred in the southbound lanes. Martinez said he and other drivers pulled over and rushed across the highway to try to help, only to find unspeakable carnage.
Most passengers were sleeping when the crash occurred, having spent Friday night at the Mohegan Sun, a sprawling entertainment complex. One of them, Chung Ninh, said he was jolted awake by the impact and found himself surrounded by the dead and dying, some missing limbs. One woman died as he tried to help her escape the vehicle, Ninh said, describing in broken English his attempt to find her pulse. "I put my hand in the neck," he said. "Nothing."
Investigators said the bus slid on its side for about 300 feet down the highway after veering out of its lane and hitting a guardrail. It smashed into a heavy pole supporting a large highway sign, then kept sliding as the pole sheared off most of the roof like a can opener. The bus came to a stop with the pole still embedded in it.
"The truck perhaps struck the bus or at least started moving toward the bus," said New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who gave a news briefing at the accident site. Police assigned Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking officers to help victims' family members, most of them Chinatown residents who speak little or no English.
World Wide Travel, based in Brooklyn, released a statement that it was cooperating with investigators. "We are heartbroken to report that several of our passengers lost their lives or were injured," it said. "We are a family-owned company and realize words cannot begin to express our sorrow to the families of those who lost their lives or were injured in this tragic accident. Our thoughts and prayers are with them."
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