Fatal Chattanooga school bus crash: What we know

Company Behind Crash Has Spotty Safety Record

(USA TODAY Network) -- NASHVILLE — A dozen elementary school students were injured and five were killed in a school bus crash Monday afternoon in Chattanooga. The driver of the bus, 24-year-old Johnthony Walker, was arrested and faces five counts of vehicular homicide, among other charges. Here's what we know:

 
Where did it happen? 
 
The crash took place about 3:20 p.m ET off Talley Road in the Brainerd area of southeast Chattanooga after the bus flipped and struck a tree.
 
Who was killed? 
 
Five students — three fourth-graders, a kindergartner and a first-grader — were killed in the crash.
 
Who was injured? 
 
Twelve children remained hospitalized Tuesday morning. Of those, six remained in intensive care, Hamilton County Interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly said. The remaining 20 students, he said, were home with their families.
 
It took hours for medical personnel to identify the children, according to Dr. Darvey Koller, a pediatric emergency room physician at Children's Hospital at Erlanger in Chattanooga. At a Tuesday afternoon briefing, he described the wave of children in school uniforms who arrived at the hospital, many of them too young to know how to spell their own names or remember their birth dates. Even the children who could have remembered identifying information were dazed and frightened, he said.
 
When asked to recall a parent’s name, one child responded, “Mama,” Koller said.
 
A staff member began taking photos of each child and showing them to teachers who could then tell doctors their names.
 
Dr. Lisa Smith, a pediatric surgeon, said at one point there were some 800 family members in the hospital halls and waiting rooms. She wanted to thank all of the emergency responders and hospital staff who helped treat the patients and care for their families.
 
Who was arrested?  
 
Police arrested 24-year-old Johnthony Walker, and are charging him with five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving. Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher said there may be additional charges later. Police said the bus driver is cooperating with authorities.
 
Who did the bus driver work for? 
 
Walker worked for Durham School Services based in Warrenville, Ill. The company released a statement on Tuesday stating it was working with the Hamilton County School District and Chattanooga police on the investigation. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, Walker received his commercial driver's license in April.
 
The company operates across the nation and has more than 13,000 vehicles and 13,000 drivers, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Durham has had 142 crashes with injuries and three fatalities in the last 24 months, according to federal records. Records show at least 36 crashes with injuries and one wreck with a fatality in Tennessee during that span, including two crashes with injuries in Hamilton County this year.
 
What about the bus? 
 
National Transportation and Safety Board Chairman Christopher Hart said the 2008 bus did not have seat belts and the agency is looking into whether they might have made a difference. "It is too early to determine that this point," Hart said.
 
Meanwhile, lawmakers are considering new legislation to require seat belts on school buses in Tennessee.
 
The bus involved in the crash passed its most recent inspection, which occurred in early August, according to records obtained by The Tennessean from the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security. The bus had 151,715 miles on it when it was inspected and passed all tests, including checks on brakes, suspension, safety gauges and the engine. The bus was first used in June 2007.
 
Has the driver been in trouble before in Tennessee? 
 
According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Walker had no criminal offenses in the state until the bus crash. According to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, Walker had his license suspended for about a month in 2014 for failure to show proof of insurance in Chattanooga. His license was reinstated March 28, 2014.
 
Has the driver been in another school bus crash?
 
Yes. Chattanooga police spokeswoman Elisa Myzal said Walker sideswiped a Kia Soul while driving a school bus in the city on Sept. 20. Myzal said Walker was travelling west on Sylvan Drive when he reportedly failed to yield and the crash took place. No one was injured and neither drugs nor alcohol appeared to have been a factor in the wreck.
 
What did the driver say after the crash? 
 
Walker's mother, Gwenevere Cook, told CNN that her son called her after the crash and said he "tried to pull the children off the bus." But, Cook said he told her, "there was too much blood."
 
Who is investigating? 
 
Chattanooga police, the Hamilton County District Attorney's office, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the NTSB.
 
What caused the accident?
 
Early reports from investigators indicate the bus hit a utility pole before flipping over and wrapping around a tree. Authorities said speed is being investigated as a factor. Police have issued a warrant to remove the black box from the bus and review the video evidence. Police are still investigating whether alcohol played a role.
 
Where did the children go to school?
 
The children on the bus attend Woodmore Elementary School in the Brainerd/Woodmore community. The school, which opened in 1955, is located about six miles east of downtown Chattanooga.
 
How can you help the families?
 
Text the word "Woodmore" to the number 91-999 to give from your mobile phone. Also, visit unitedwaycha.org/www/blog.
 
Follow Natalie Neysa Alund, Ariana Sawyer and Joel Ebert on Twitter: @nataliealund, @a_maia_sawyer and @joelebert29

 


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment