A New York grand jury has finally indicted Ophadell Williams on charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, for the fatal bus crash that left 15 dead as the result of an accident on Interstate 95 near the Westchester County-Bronx border this past March. This accident has certainly spurred a great deal of concern regarding the vetting requirements of commercial bus driver’s in the state of New York and across the country. Bus drivers have the ultimate responsibility for safety and security of their passengers and should be held to a much higher standard than currently required by law. Drivers that hold a commercial driver's license (CDL) must undergo a driver’s record check, medical screen, pre-employment and random drug test as required by the Department Of Transportation (DOT). In addition, a driver’s current and past employment record is verified, which includes confirming incidents of safety violations, accidents, and prior drug testing violations.
This process seems to be comprehensive at first glance; however, what about the actual integrity of the driver as it relates to fraud and prior criminal history?
Use Of Proper Identity Techniques and Criminal History Information Could Save Lives
According to the New York Inspector General, Williams was able to obtain a commercial bus driver’s license by using a fake (alias) name of Eric Williams. A simple Social Security Trace conducted as part of a comprehensive background check could have connected the dots between Ophadell Williams and the use of his alias name Eric Williams. Although a common-name, tying Eric Williams to an address history with Ophadell Williams may have spurred further investigation into the true identity of Mr. Williams. In addition, it would have supplied critical information as to where to concentrate criminal record search efforts to uncover the prior criminal history of the driver.
Mr. Williams had a sordid criminal history way before his employment at World Wide Tours. Williams was convicted of manslaughter for his role in a stabbing in 1990 and served more than two years in prison due to the crime. He served additional time from 1998 through the middle of 2002, for grand larceny for taking an $83,905 check from a Police Athletic League fund, said a correctional services spokeswoman. Williams used aliases in both those cases to avoid being detected. Currently there is no legal requirement on the use of criminal history as it relates to qualifying a commercial driver which is a huge tragedy for the lives lost in the crash. Further scrutiny of past felony convictions, especially the repetitive history of Mr. Williams, should have been an eye-opening disqualifier for eligibility to hold a commercial driver’s license. Only now the state of New York is considering Bill S5171B which could require all bus drivers in the state to under-go a criminal background check as part of the qualification process. It’s unfortunate that such a tragedy needed to occur for lawmakers to take a closer look at an obvious hole in the qualification process.
Comprehensive Background Checks Could Also Reduce Employer Liability to Negligent Hiring
Two survivors of the Bronx bus accident have filed multimillion-dollar lawsuits against the bus company and against Mr. Williams. The two individuals are suing World Wide Tours and Williams for $20 million and $200 million, respectively. The passengers are claiming negligence on the part of the bus operating company for allowing Williams behind the wheel, resulting in the deadly crash on March 12th. Their claims are based on the company’s lack of “due diligence” which refers to the duty of care an employer would take to hire individuals that would not pose a threat or safety risk to other employees and individuals. This case is only one in several claims where employers did not conduct due diligence screening and ended up paying millions of dollars in negligent hiring litigation settlement claims.
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