School bus driver charged in deadly Chattanooga crash
Chattanooga, Tenn. — A school bus driver was behind bars Tuesday after a crash killed five youngsters and plunged Chattanooga into mourning over what the mayor called the “most unnatural thing in the world” — a parent losing a child.
Police said Johnthony Walker, 24, was speeding along a narrow, winding road Monday afternoon with 35 elementary school students aboard when he wrapped the bus around a tree. Walker was arrested and charged with five counts of vehicular homicide.
Reeling from the tragedy, Chattanoogans lined up to donate blood, created a memorial of flowers and stuffed toys at the crash scene and planned an evening prayer vigil. Parents who send their children off to school every day struggled to come to grips with the shock and break the news to their loved ones.
“It’s real tough, said Dujuan Butchee, whose daughters, Jamya and Janesa, are eighth-graders who used to go to the same school as the youngsters killed in the wreck. “It’s tough on my kids because they know some of the victims as well.”
Butchee said it wasn’t the first time he heard about a bus speeding: “I think it should wake up more bus drivers to be more cautious because you’re dealing with a lot of kids’ lives.”
Police said Walker was driving well over the posted 30 mph limit when he lost control of the bus. He was jailed on $107,500 bail for a court appearance Nov. 29 on charges that also included reckless driving and reckless endangerment. It was not known whether he had a lawyer.
Twelve children remained hospitalized Tuesday, six in intensive care, said Kirk Kelly, interim school superintendent.
Three of the children killed were in fourth grade, one was in first grade and another in kindergarten, Kelly said. Their families were notified, but their names were not released. All the children aboard went to Woodmore Elementary School.
“The most unnatural thing in the world is for a parent to mourn the loss of a child,” Mayor Andy Berke said. “There are no words that can bring comfort to a mother or a father. So today, the city is praying for these families.”
The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to investigate, and police obtained a warrant to remove the bus’ black box, which contains data on the vehicle’s movements.
Demetrius Jenkins said he had yet to tell his first-grade son, Jermaine Bradley, that the boy’s best friend had died in the crash.
“It’s sad. He’s going to eventually find out,” Jenkins said. “I know he’s going to be full of tears.”