School Bus Driver, 24, Charged With Homicide After 5 Children Are Killed in Crash
The driver of a school bus that crashed in Tennessee Tuesday has been arrested and charged following the wreck that left five young children dead.
Chattanooga police announced that Johnthony Walker, 24, has been charged with five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment, and reckless driving after his bus turned on its side and wrapped around a tree Tuesday afternoon.
In a Tuesday morning press conference, authorities said the victims would not be named but noted they include three 4th graders, a kindergarten student and one first grader at Woodmore Elementary School.
Hamilton County schools interim Superintendent Dr. Kirk Kelly said four of the victims were girls and one was a boy.
Among the dead is 10-year-old Zyanna Harris, whose identity WREG confirmed with her stepfather.
All told, 24 students were taken to hospitals. It reportedly took about two hours to extricate the last children from the bus.
Six of the hospitalized students were in the Intensive Care Unit, Kelly said.
Police said they are looking at speed “very, very strongly” as a factor in the crash.
"The defendant was traveling at high rate of speed on Talley Road, which is a narrow winding road. Based on witness statements and physical evidence the defendant was driving the school bus at a high rate of speed, well above the posted speed limit of 30 MPH," the police report reads.
Alarmingly, one parent told WWJ-TV that her child told her the driver made disturbing statements prior to the crash.
"The mother says that in the moments before the crash, the bus driver said something to the effect of ‘Are you all ready to die?’ and then seconds later, the bus was on its side and five kids were killed," CBS News Correspondent Mark Strassman said.
And, in a cruel twist, the mother of one of the victims told WRCB that she wrote a letter to the school complaining about Walker's driving just two weeks ago. The station reports that two sisters in that same family were on the bus and are now in intensive care.
Walker remains in custody on $107,500 bond and is scheduled to appear in court on November 29.
Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher said the bus was the only vehicle involved in the crash.
"Our hearts go out, as well as the hearts of all these people behind me, to the families, the neighborhood, the school, for all the people involved in this, we assure you we are doing everything we can," he said.
Hamilton County Public Schools, including Woodmore Elementary, were open Tuesday, and grief counselors on hand for students.
“I understand if parents feel it necessary to keep their students home from Woodmore Elementary today, but want to once again remind everyone that extra trained personnel will be there to counsel and aid anyone seeking assistance in dealing with this horrible tragedy,” Kelly, the superintendent, said in a statement.
"Our next step as a school system in the coming days, weeks, and months is to work to heal as a community,” said Kelly.