NEW YORK (AP) _ Inspectors found no evidence that the tour bus that crashed last month, killing 15 people on their way home from a casino, was clipped by a tractor-trailer before it swerved and tipped over, federal regulators said Friday.
A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board also found that the bus was traveling 78 mph less than a minute before the crash but then slowed somewhat. The speed limit at the Bronx site is 55 mph.
The report does not cite a cause of the crash. The NTSB said its analysis, “along with conclusions and a determination of probable cause,” will be in its final report. The report will probably be issued next year, spokesman Peter Knudson said.
The World Wide Travel bus ran off Interstate 95 early on March 12 as it was returning from an overnight trip to the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Conn. The report says it veered to the right, crossed the shoulder, hit a barrier and traveled 480 feet as it fell over. Then it slid into a vertical sign support that cut through the bus at the window line.
Police said driver Ophadell Williams told them his bus was clipped by a tractor-trailer, which forced him to swerve and crash. But the report says an inspection of a tractor-trailer whose driver came forward as a witness revealed no evidence of contact.
Williams’ lawyer, Sean Rooney, maintained Friday that the crash was caused by a tractor-trailer swerving into the lane in front of the bus.
“Whether there was incidental contact or not is really irrelevant,” he said.
Williams has not been charged.
Some surviving passengers who are suing Williams allege he was asleep, but Rooney said Williams was well-rested and alert.
He said police tested Williams’ breath and blood for alcohol, and the tests were negative. Police have not confirmed that.
The NTSB had previously announced that the bus had reached 78 mph at some point, but added Friday that the speed was reached just 45 seconds before impact. The speed decreased before the accident, it said, but it did not say by how much.
It also said that 78 was the maximum speed for the bus because of an electronic module that controls engine performance. The module also records some data and has about a minute and a half of such information, the NTSB said.
The information is still being analyzed.
Rooney said the module’s readings should not be trusted because it may not have been well-maintained.
Rooney said Williams is “an emotional mess.”
“He cries day in and day out,” the lawyer said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)