Ophadell Williams, bus driver in NY crash that killed 15, found not guilty of manslaughter

In this image taken from video released by WABC-TV 7 in New York, emergency personnel respond to the bus crash on Interstate 95 in the Bronx borough of New York, Saturday, March 12, 2011. At least 14 people died when the bus, returning to New York from a casino in Connecticut, flipped onto its side and was sliced in half by the support pole for a large sign. (AP Photo/WABC-TV 7) NO SALES
AP Photo/WABC-TV 7
Ophadell Williams in court on Dec. 7, 2012.
CBS New York

(CBS/AP) NEW YORK - A tour bus driver was acquitted Friday of manslaughter and negligent homicide in a crash last year that killed 15 people 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. He was sentenced to 30 days in prison and ordered to pay a fee of $500.

During the trial, prosecutors said Williams was all but asleep at the wheel at the time of the March 12, 2011 crash.

Williams argued 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."

Florence Wong, who lost her father, 76-year-old Don Lee, told reporters that she still believes Williams is responsible for the lives lost in the accident.

"I do not agree with the jury, but I respect their decision because they did look at the evidence and they came out with a verdict," she said.

The crash happened on Interstate 95 at daybreak as Williams was ferrying a busload of gamblers back to Manhattan's Chinatown from the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Conn. The bus crashed just feet from a road sign that read: "Welcome to the Bronx."

The bus struck a guard rail, toppled over and hit a signpost that tore open the vehicle's top before it skidded to a stop.

The victims were mostly Chinese men and women over the age of 40 who were regulars at casinos. About half died. The others were injured.

More on CrimesiderSeptember 1, 2011 - Bus driver in NY crash that killed 15 said to be indicted for manslaughter