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Police, NTSB probe hit-and-run claim in NY bus crash

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Police are investigating a bus driver's hit-and-run claim after a horrific bus crash that killed 14 passengers and injured 18 others, officials said on Sunday.

State police said the driver, Ophadel E. Williams, 41, of Brooklyn, told authorities he was clipped by a tractor trailer before his bus swerved on Interstate 95 in New York City and toppled onto a support pole for a highway sign.

The pole sliced the bus in half along the windows, peeling off the vehicle's rooftop.

The bus was transporting passengers from the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut to New York's Chinatown. None of the 32 people on board escaped death or injury in the crash, which occurred about 5:30 a.m. on Saturday morning.

The speed limit posted in that area is 55 mph and State Police Maj. Michael Kopy said: "We have a number of reports saying the driver was operating southbound at a high speed."

There has been no confirmation yet that the bus was hit by another vehicle that drove off, Kopy said, but he added that the investigation is proceeding.

"It appears the operator lost control of the vehicle for what is at yet an undetermined reason," Kopy said. "Right now we're conducting, at this point, a criminal investigation."

State police have questioned Williams and a truck driver believed to be near the bus when the crash happened, he said.

Kopy said police have seized both drivers' vehicles and will analyze them to see if contact was in fact made.

The National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating the crash.

Surveillance video from inside the bus is also in police possession and will be reviewed during the investigation, Kopy said. He said it is "premature" to accuse any driver of wrongdoing in the crash pending the investigation.

Thirteen people were pronounced dead at the crash scene and another died at the hospital. Eight other people with critical injuries and the remainder with less serious injuries were all taken to area hospitals, police and fire officials said.

The bus was operated by World Wide Travel of Brooklyn, New York. A spokesman was not available on Sunday but the company on its Web site said it is "cooperating fully with investigators in trying to determine the exact sequence of events."

The New York Daily News said the company has had five violations between December 2009 and October 2010, citing records at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

(Reporting by Aman Ali. Editing by Peter Bohan)

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