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Bus driver acquitted of manslaughter


 Emergency personnel investigate the scene of a March 12, 2011, bus crash on Interstate-95 in the Bronx, New York.
David Karp/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Date published: 12/8/2012

BY MEGHAN BARR

Associated Press

NEW YORK

--A tour bus driver who prosecutors said was all but asleep at the wheel was acquitted Friday of manslaughter and negligent homicide in a crash last year that killed 15 gamblers on their way from a Connecticut casino to New York City.

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 behavior 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.

"It happened as a motor vehicle accident, not as some crime," said Williams' lawyer, Patrick Bruno. "He tried to avoid tragedy, and tragedy occurred."

The defendant left the courthouse without speaking. His lawyer said Williams just wanted to go home and relax with his family.

"He had great faith that he would be vindicated," Bruno said outside court. "He said, 'Thank you so much. I knew that they would do the right thing.' His wife and sister hugged and kissed me and said, 'Thank you. This is the greatest Christmas and birthday gift of all.'"

Bruno said the verdict is a major case for this generation.

"It's saying that if you are going to try and make fatigue--sleepiness--a criminal legal issue in a motor vehicle accident, you have a lot, lot more to prove," he said.