NEW YORK, N.Y. - A tour bus driver behind the wheel in a horrific crash that killed 15 people last year was found not guilty of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide on Friday.
The March 12, 2011, crash happened at daybreak as Williams was ferrying a busload of gamblers to Manhattan's Chinatown from the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut.
Driver Ophadell Williams was found guilty on one count of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.
Williams wept and covered his face with his hands as the verdict was read. On the count which he was found guilty, the judge sentenced him to 30 days in prison, which he has served. He also was ordered to pay a fee of $500.
Williams argued throughout the trial that he had been awake and alert, and said the crash was not the result of reckless behaviour or extreme exhaustion. He said a tractor-trailer cut him off, causing him to swerve and hit a guardrail. But investigators could find no indication that had occurred.
His lawyer had said he was wracked with guilt over the crash — but not guilty of manslaughter.
Prosecutors alleged Williams was so sleep deprived from working another job during the day that it affected his reflexes the same as if he were intoxicated behind the wheel. He said Williams knew the risks, but drove anyway.
The bus struck a guard rail, toppled over and hit a signpost that tore open the top before skittering to a stop.
The victims were mostly Chinese men and women over the age of 40 who were regulars at casinos. About half died. The others were injured. Survivors missing limbs testified in court, including Ren Xiang Yao who spoke of how he lost both arms when he raised them up instinctively when the bus crashed. He said he didn't see the crash — though he remembers when the rescue crews arrived.
"I used all the energy I had left and said, 'I'm here, I'm here, please come rescue me,' "he said. "By the time I woke up, I was already in the hospital."
Yao was hospitalized for nearly a month and had several operations.
Williams has been held in jail because his family cannot post $250,000 bail. He faces/faced a maximum of 7 1/2 years to 15 years in prison.