School bus driver arrested as city mourns 5 children
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.”
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.