WASHINGTON — The results of an investigation into a deadly tour bus crash in New York last year that killed 15 passengers and helped prompt a crackdown on rogue bus operators by federal regulators are about to be released.
The five-member National Transportation Safety Board plans to meet Tuesday to determine the probable cause of the March 12, 2011, accident and make safety recommendations. The bus was returning to New York’s Chinatown from an overnight trip to a casino in Connecticut when it clattered along a highway guard rail, toppled over and crashed into the support pole for a highway sign. The pole knifed through the bus front to back along the window line, peeling the roof off all the way to the back tires.
Investigators already have determined that the bus was speeding at the time of the crash, and that the driver — Ophadell Williams — had a checkered work and driving history, including 18 suspensions of his driving privileges. Documents released by the board last month indicate that during the three days prior to the accident, Williams’ cellphone and rental car were in almost continuous use during the daytime hours when he had said he was sleeping,
Federal safety officials previously have expressed concern about the prevalence of operator fatigue in all modes of transportation, including the motor coach industry, which transports more than 700 million passengers a year in the U.S. — roughly the same as the domestic airlines.
The New York accident, and other fatal accidents in New Jersey and Virginia last spring, sparked an investigation by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration into the safety of curbside bus operators. Last week, government safety officials swooped down on more than two dozen curbside bus operations that mostly ferry passengers in the busy East Coast transportation corridor between New York and Florida, closing them for safety violations in the largest single federal crackdown on the industry.