Lawyer: Driver likely to plead not guilty in bus crash

Jonathan Mattise
Associated Press

Nashville, Tenn. — The driver in a Chattanooga school bus crash last week that killed six children will likely plead not guilty to related charges, according to his lawyer.

Defense attorney Amanda Dunn said she anticipates Johnthony Walker, 24, will plead not guilty if a grand jury indicts him.

Walker is charged with five counts of vehicular homicide. Police say another count will be added for a child who died two days after the Nov. 21 crash.

Dunn said the accident has been “devastating” for Walker and his family.

“Although he stands accused of wrongdoing, Mr. Walker is an innocent man in the eyes of the law until proven otherwise,” Dunn said in an email. “We are hopeful that the investigation of this matter will conclude quickly, and that his family’s privacy will be respected as this case progresses.”

Federal investigators said Walker had left the designated bus route when he wrecked on a curvy road while carrying 37 students, from kindergarten through fifth grade. Chattanooga police suspect Walker was speeding. Police said a toxicology test showed Walker had no drugs or alcohol in his system.

The defense and prosecution said Walker will appear briefly in court Tuesday in Hamilton County to delay a preliminary hearing until Dec. 15.

Students and administrators had raised concerns about Walker’s behavior behind the wheel in the weeks before the crash.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, grieving families began holding funerals for their lost children.

The funeral for 9-year-old Cor’Dayja Jones was held Saturday. Ten-year-old Zyanna Janal Harris’ services followed Sunday.

The funeral for Zoie Nash, 9, is scheduled for Thursday.

In a Facebook post, Woodmore Elementary School said funeral arrangements haven’t been finalized for D’Myunn Brown, 6; Zyaira Mateen, 6; and Keonte Wilson, 8.

On Monday afternoon, a school bus run by the same company, Durham School Services, struck a pedestrian in his 50s who stepped into traffic, police said. His injuries were not believed to be life-threatening.

Chattanooga police spokeswoman Elisa Myzal said the person “walked out in front of the bus and an ambulance that were coming” and was hit by the bus. There were no students on the bus and the driver wasn’t injured, Myzal said. She said the incident happened in the same part of town as the fatal wreck last week.