Prosecutors allege the driver of the school bus involved in the Chattanooga, Tennessee, bus crash on November 21, 2016 was on his cell phone when the bus went off the road, killing six students. Johnthony Walker faces 34 charges, including multiple counts of vehicular homicide, linked to the tragedy. The school bus crash in Chattanooga reopened the debate about school bus safety and the safety of school bus drivers.
Officials Say Cell Phone Line Was “Open” During Tennessee School Bus Crash
Prosecutors say they have evidence Walker’s cell phone line was open when the crash occurred, noting he received a phone call at 3:17 p.m. on November 21, 2016, only three minutes before 911 received its first call about the school bus. The district attorney’s office says Walker’s phone call lasted about four minutes.
“It’s clear that he was on the phone when the crash happened,” said Melydia Clewell of the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office. “He did answer the call and the phone line was open.”
In all, Walker faces 34 charges related to the tragedy. Included in those are six counts of vehicular homicide and 18 counts of reckless aggravated assault. He also faces one count of use of a portable electronic device while driving the school bus.
Although the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has not issued its final report regarding the school bus crash, District Attorney General Neal Pinkston said he had received a draft of the final report and had informed parents of some of the victims about the NTSB’s findings.
“We told the parents of the deceased children what the DA put on the record in court today, that the NTSB review of his phone records show Walker was on the phone at the time of the crash,” Clewell said.
Pinkston was in court arguing that cell phone records should be admissible as part of the trial, noting that there are other days during the same time that Walker can be shown to be on the phone. Walker’s trial is set to begin on February 27, 2018. Meanwhile, a full report on the Chattanooga school bus crash from the NTSB is not expected until April 2018 at the earliest.
Authorities Allege Woodmore Elementary School Bus Driver Was Speeding Before Accident
At a previous hearing, Chattanooga police officer Joe Warren testified that Walker was driving 20 miles-per-hour over the speed limit when the bus crashed and did not apply the brake when he lost control. Warren also testified that Walker had his cell phone out while driving the bus, but Warren did not make any claims about how Walker was using the phone at that time.
Chattanooga School Bus Crash Killed Six Students
Around 37 students were on the bus when it crashed. Six of those students died and 31 were injured. According to a preliminary report from the NTSB, Walker did not follow his usual bus route, choosing instead to drive along Talley Road. As he negotiated the second of two curves, at around 20 miles per hour over the speed limit, Walker lost control of the vehicle and the bus left the roadway where it collided with a tree and a utility pole. Five children died at the scene while a sixth died in the hospital.
Parents Mark Somber First Anniversary of Tragedy
While parents wait for Walker’s trial to begin, they continue to mourn the loss of the six students who died in the crash, and have since been collectively known as the Woodmore 6, named after their school, Woodmore Elementary School:
- Zoie Nash
- D’Myunn Brown
- Cor’Dayja Jones
- Keon’te Wilson
- Zyaira Mateen
- Zyanna Harris
“November 21, when I walked my baby to that bus stop and she told me she loved me…I wouldn’t never think I wouldn’t see my baby again,” said LaTesha Jones, mother of one of the victims.
A memorial for the children was held on the first anniversary from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the site of the bus crash.
“It has been very difficult for me just thinking about the things we use [sic] to do,” Misti Nash said. “Zoie was my best friend. She was a sweet person, loving person; it’s just been really hard for me.”
School Bus Safety an Ongoing Issue
In the wake of the Chattanooga school bus crash, safety advocates again raised the call for seat belts on school buses. In many states, school buses are not required to have seatbelts. Concerns have also been raised that the school district and transportation supervisor did not ensure the safety of the students on the bus, especially given that Walker was involved in a crash while driving a school bus just two months before the tragedy.
A lawsuit filed against the school district alleges parents complained about Walker’s dangerous driving but no action was taken.