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School Bus Driver Charged In Deadly Chattanooga Crash

Posted at 5:34 AM, Nov 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-22 23:41:22-05

A school bus driver has been charged with vehicular homicide after a crash that killed at least five children in Chattanooga.

According to an affidavit, 24-year-old Johnthony Walker was arrested and charged with five counts of vehicular homicide, one count of reckless endangerment and one count of reckless driving. 

The incident happened Monday afternoon on Talley Road, only a few miles from its school, Woodmore Elementary School.

MORE: Multiple Children Killed In Hamilton Co. School Bus Crash

 

 

Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher said the bus was carrying 37 kids, ranging from kindergarten to 5th grade.

Hamilton County District Attorney, Neal Pinkston initially said a total of six children died in the crash – five of whom died on impact and one at the hospital.

However, Chief Fletcher said later that night only five were killed, and would not confirm the condition of the sixth child.

Dr. Kirk Kelly, interim Superintendent of Hamilton County Schools, said in a news conference Tuesday morning that the victims are identified as three 4th graders, one 1st grader and one kindergartner.

PHOTOS: Chattanooga Amid School Bus Tragedy

Twelve students remain hospitalized, six of those are in ICU at Erlanger Health System Hospital.

The names of the children killed in the crash have not been released, but one family identified the daughter they lost to CBS News.

Jasmine Mateen's three children were on the bus. Two of them suffered minor injuries, but her 6-year-old Zyaira was killed in the crash.

Mateen said she and other parents have complained about Walker's driving several times to the district.

Hospital officials said most of the patients suffered minor injuries like bruises, cuts and sore ankles or wrists. Most of them were released after two hours.

However, for others it took much longer for the children to be reunited with their families because all of them were in uniforms and had no form of identification. Many of them were also so shaken up from the crash that they couldn't say or spell their own names for the doctors.

"We also had the responsibility to notify those parents whose children have died in the bus crash. Our staff was accompanied by CPD, school officials, chaplains. At one point we had 800 family members in our hospital," said Dr. Lisa Smith.

Grief counselors were be on-hand at the school to help students, faculty and staff, and community members cope with the deadly crash.  

"We are again dealing with unimaginable grief," said Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke.   

At the time of the crash, Walker was traveling at a "high rate of speed, well above the posted speed limit of 30 mph,” police documents said. Investigators said he was also weaving within his lane. 

Walker was booked and held on a $107,500 bond.  

NTSB officials in Washington said the investigation could take up to a year to complete. They're expected to be in Chattanooga between 7-10 days. 

"We dig and dig and dig. We don't like to go home without the answer," said NTSB Chairman, Christopher Hart.

The school bus had two cameras, one interior and one exterior which they planned to use in their investigation. They said there was also a driver behind the bus when it crashed, that they plan to interview.

The mangled school bus was towed from the scene so that officers could open the road.

According to federal records, the bus operation company, Illinois-based Durham School Services, has had 142 injury crashes across the country in just the last two years alone.

That includes 36 people injured in Tennessee during that time - information that investigators will no doubt consider as the community in Chattanooga continues to grieve.