The driver of a Chattanooga school bus that crashed in November, killing six students and injuring 20 others, was driving up to 22 mph over the speed limit off his designated route and may have been using his cellphone at the time, a police officer investigating the accident testified in court Dec. 15.
School bus driver Johnthony Walker, 24, has been charged with five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment, and reckless driving. Authorities will also add a sixth charge of vehicular homicide for a student who later died from crash injuries.
In last Thursday morning’s hearing, Hamilton County General Sessions Judge Lila Statom found sufficient probable cause to send Mr. Johnthony’s case to a grand jury.
Chattanooga Police Officer Joe Warren testified during the 90-minute hearing that Mr. Walker was driving 48-52 mph on a winding road that wasn’t part of his designated route when the bus veered off the road into a utility pole and struck a tree.
There was also some question as to whether cellphone use may have been a factor in the crash. Officer Warren testified that surveillance shows Mr. Walker using his cellphone when the bus was stopped, but went out of view when he resumed driving. Investigators are going through Mr. Walker’s cell phone records for a clearer picture of what happened.
Mr. Walker and his employer, Durham School Services, which contracted with Chattanooga to provide public school transportation in the city, face multiple personal-injury suits and one wrongful death complaint in connection with the crash.
Some students had complained of Mr. Walker driving recklessly in the past, and Illinois-based Durham School Services had a history of school bus crashes in Tennessee, according to The Tennessean.
The bus was carrying 37 students at the time. Two of the critically injured children remain in the hospital.
The six children who died are: Zyanna Janal Harris, 10; Cor’Dayja Jones, 9; Zoie Nash, 9; Keontae Wilson, 8; D’Myunn Brown, 6; and Zyaira Mateen, 6.