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Bus Driver in Fatal Crash Had Lengthy Criminal Record

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Investigators worked Tuesday to piece together the trail of a man with numerous traffic violations and a decades-old manslaughter conviction who crashed a tour bus over the weekend in New York City, killing 15 people.

The bus driver, Ophadell Williams, was ticketed in 1995 for speeding and twice for driving without a license, giving police the alias Erik Williams, two state officials familiar with the accident probe told The Associated Press on Monday. Williams’ driving privileges were suspended, meaning he couldn’t legally drive in the state, after he failed to address the charges.

The bus crash occurred Saturday as gamblers were returning to New York City’s Chinatown,after a few hours at the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Conn.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators said they were looking at Williams’ last 72 hours before the Saturday crash, checking the casino’s surveillance video.

“We want to know what he ate, what he drank and how much he slept,” NTSB vice chairman Christopher Hart said.

The casino has a lounge for bus drivers with coffee, soda, snacks and televisions, Mohegan Sun President Jeff Hartmann said. He said he did not know whether Williams was in the lounge before the trip.

“We don’t keep track of them. They’re on their own,” he told the AP.

Investigators are trying to follow Williams’ steps by matching Social Security numbers of traffic stops under different names, the officials said, speaking to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation. Williams also had an incomplete log book, which is required for commercial drivers, the officials said.

The revelations about Williams, who has a 20-year-old manslaughter conviction, prompted Gov. Andrew Cuomo to launch a state investigation into how Williams was able to hold a valid commercial driver’s license at the time of Saturday’s crash.

Williams was convicted of crimes using two aliases. He served just more than two years for manslaughter for his role in a stabbing in 1990, state correction records show. He initially had been charged with second-degree murder.

Williams served about three years, from 1998 to the middle of 2002, for grand larceny for removing an $83,905 check from a Police Athletic League fund, correctional services spokeswoman Linda Foglia said.

He also was arrested by New York City police on June 4, 2003, for driving with a suspended license and for possession of three police radios. In 1987, he was arrested on charges of trying to get on public transportation without paying.

There are no federal regulations that would prohibit states from issuing a license to a bus driver with a criminal record, said Duane DeBruyne, a spokesman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

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