Ophadell Williams was the driver of the Chinatown bus that crashed on its way back to New York from Mohegan Sun Casino last weekend, killing 15 people. Any one of us could be Ophadell Williams.
As in all such horrific disasters, there is a natural human instinct to find someone to blame. Ophadell Williams seemed to be the most convenient person to fit that profile. Since the crash, we've learned the following things about Williams:
- Following the crash, the NYPD launched an investigation into whether Williams was at fault. He passed a Breathalyzer test. He says he was sideswiped by a semi truck, causing the crash. Police say the bus may have been speeding.
- New York state suspended his drivers license, saying he had made "false statements about the status of his license" in the past.
- Ophadell Williams served two years in prison for manslaughter in the early 90s, and, later, did six more years in prison for grand larceny.
- Sample tabloid headlines: "Killer Behind the Wheel in Bus Crash," "Ophadell Williams, the 'devil' bus driver in horrific crash, did prison time."
Note what has not been reported: any definitive proof that Ophadell Williams did something seriously wrong to cause the crash. The worst that has been alleged is that he may have nodded off at the wheel—a failing that speaks more to the dangers of all-night bus trips than to the weaknesses of a particular driver. If he was speeding, well, everyone on that stretch of road is speeding—and most faster than the buses, which tend to get passed by other traffic. The fact that Ophadell Williams served time in jail in the past is irrelevant to this case. The fact that he may have lied about his criminal record in order to keep his bus driver's license shows what? A man that needs a job. Had a driver without a criminal record been at the wheel, there is no guarantee the same crash wouldn't have happened. It was a traffic accident. It happens.
Yesterday, Ophadell Williams spoke to the media for the first time since the crash. He said he was "hurt by the whole situation," but retreated inside after apparently suffering an anxiety attack. His wife said he's having nightmares. He's a person who's been through something horrible.
The desire for someone to blame is understandable. But some things in life are just awful and random, and accepting them as such is healthier than directing all of our collective sorrow, outrage, and frustration onto a convenient target. We've all made mistakes. We've all made poor decisions when we were young, whether or not we were caught for them. We've all sped, and taken our eyes off the road for a split second. Anyone could be Ophadell Williams. Let's not be vengeful. Let's be grateful that we aren't him today. Those who demand that he suffer the consequences for this crash, don't worry: he already is.