Ceremony for 15 killed in casino bus crash

March 19, 2011 3:41:52 PM PDT
Relatives of the passengers who died in the crash of a New York City casino bus returned to the crash site for a Buddhist ceremony this morning.

City officials closed one lane of Interstate 95 in the Bronx for about an hour Saturday morning to allow for the ceremony, which was blocked from view to avoid rubbernecking.

A bell tolled and family members walked in a circle as part of the ceremony.

Fifteen people died in the casino bus crash a week ago.

The bus was returning March 12 to Manhattan's Chinatown from an overnight trip to a Connecticut casino when it tipped over and was sliced in two by a pole.

Authorities are investigating the accident.

Earlier this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office released motor vehicle data to investigators regarding the bus driver involved in the crash.

"Today, the Department of Motor Vehicles turned over information to the New York State Police and the state inspector general regarding evidence of false statements given by Ophadell Williams, and has suspended, effective immediately, his driving privileges," said Howard Glaser, director of state operations.

"The information the DMV is referring for investigation includes driver license applications containing false statements about the status of his license and whether this was done to conceal the fact that he had been using multiple names and had a suspension under one of those names," Glaser said in a statement. "The investigation is active and ongoing."

Some of the first emergency workers to reach the scene of the crash have also been questioned by investigators from the state police and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Some key questions remain unanswered. Investigators haven't released drug and alcohol tests on the driver's blood. They also haven't said whether evidence has been found to support the driver's contention that he was clipped by a passing tractor-trailer.

Williams was ticketed in 1995 for speeding and twice for driving without a license, giving police the alias Erik Williams, state officials said. Williams' driving privileges were suspended, meaning he couldn't legally drive in the state, after he failed to address the charges. Williams also had an incomplete log book, required of commercial drivers, said the officials, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.

Amid the revelations, Cuomo directed the state inspector general to begin an investigation. The bus company that employed Williams has declined to comment during the federal investigation.

New York has also started a statewide tour bus inspection that sidelined eight drivers for various violations, including log book infractions, from the 36 vehicles inspected.

New York State Police and the state Department of Transportation issued eight tickets as part of the enhanced commercial vehicle inspection effort at stops in northern New York, on Long Island and in the Catskills.