School Bus Driver Charged in Deadly Crash

A school bus driver who authorities say was speeding along a narrow, winding Tennessee road when he wrapped his vehicle around a tree was arrested and charged with vehicular homicide in the deaths of five children.

Calling the Monday afternoon crash “every public safety professional’s worst nightmare,” Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher told an overnight news conference that 24-year-old bus driver Johnthony Walker was also charged with reckless driving and reckless endangerment.

According to Fletcher, investigators were looking at speed “very, very strongly” as a factor in the crash. An arrest affidavit posted online says Walker was driving well above the posted 30 mph speed limit on a narrow, winding road when he lost control of the bus. His bond has been set at $107,500, according to the affidavit.

Walker is scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 29. Five children were killed in the crash.

Kirk Kelly, the interim superintendent of Hamilton County schools, said the bus driver is not a school district employee, but employed by bus contractor Durham School Services.

Thirty-five students from kindergarten through fifth grade were on board when the bus flipped onto its side and wrapped around a tree. The bus was the only vehicle involved in the crash, but Fletcher said the scene was complicated and covered a significant area. He also said a warrant had been issued to remove the bus’ black box, which contains data about the vehicle’s movement.

Kelly, the interim superintendent, said three of the students killed were in fourth grade, one was in first grade and another in kindergarten. Kelly said six students were still in intensive care Tuesday morning and six others were also hospitalized.

Demetrius Jenkins, 22, was dropping off his first-grade son, Jermaine Bradley, at school the day after his best friend was killed in the crash. He said he hadn’t yet told his son his friend had died.

“It’s sad. He’s going to eventually find out,” he said. “I know he’s going to be full of tears.”

Fletcher said the families of the children who died had been notified but police would not release their names because they were juveniles.