School bus driver ar­rested as city mourns 5 chil­dren

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Jonathan Mat­tise

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 John thony 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 Bu tchee, 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.”

But chee 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, which was not equipped with seat belts. He was jailed on $107,500 bail for a court ap­pear­ance Nov. 29 on charges that in­cluded reck­less driv­ing and reck­less en­dan­ger­ment. It was not im­me­di­ately known whether he had a lawyer.

The hos­pi­tal said 12 chil­dren re­mained hos­pi­tal­ized Tues­day: six in crit­i­cal con­di­tion and six sta­ble.

Dr. Dar­vey Koller, a pe­di­atric emer­gency room physi­cian at Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal at Er­langer, said iden­ti­fy­ing the stu­dents af­ter the crash was a lengthy process in some cases.

“Many of them were scared or too dazed to talk to us,” Koller said at a news con­fer­ence Tues­day. “Be­cause of their young age, many of them were un­able to spell their names, did not know their birth­days or even their par­ents’ names — sev­eral said ‘Momma’ when they were asked what their name was.”

Hos­pi­tal staff pho­tographed each child and showed the images to teach­ers to fig­ure out iden­ti­ties, he said.

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.”

Chattanooga mid­dleschooler Ar­manie Bryant said: “They didn’t get to live their lives. They didn’t get mar­ried. They didn’t have no kids, any­thing about their future.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A school bus is car­ried away Tues­day in Chattanooga, Tenn. from the site where it crashed on Monday. The bus driver, John­thony Walker, 24, has been ar­rested on charges in­clud­ing ve­hic­u­lar homi­cide, reck­less driv­ing and reck­less en­dan­ger­ment.

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