Kellie Jones heard there’d been a fatal school bus accident in Chattanooga, Tennessee, involving elementary school children Monday, she got into her car with her cousin and headed south from their home in Cleveland.
While on the road, her worst fears were confirmed: Her 9-year-old niece, Cordayja Jones, was among the five students killed and six still hospitalized after the vehicle ran off the road, turned on its side and wrapped around a tree, according to police.
“I pulled over and cried for 15 minutes on the side of the road,” Jones, 32, tells PEOPLE.
Then she went to the hospital to see her beloved Cordayja.
“I told her, ‘I wish you could just breathe for me.’ I told her that I loved her,’ ” Jones remembers.
Police allege the bus driver, 24-year-old Johnthony Walker, was speeding and driving recklessly when he lost control of the vehicle, according to an arrest warrant obtained by PEOPLE. He is facing charges for vehicular homicide, reckless driving and reckless endangerment, police say.
According to records obtained by PEOPLE, Monday’s crash was Walker’s second traffic collision while driving a school bus in as many months.
Walker’s license was previously suspended for more than a year for failure to show proof of insurance, beginning in March 2014, and it was reinstated on March 28, 2015, a Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security spokeswoman confirmed to PEOPLE.
Police say Walker has retained a public defender but PEOPLE has not been able to reach his lawyer. He has not yet entered a plea.
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Jones says Cordayja was a social little girl who loved to making people smile and laugh.
“She was always the happy person and never sad,” Jones recalls. “She didn’t meet any strangers. She was my niece but my baby too.”
She’s grateful that her cellphone is filled with endless videos Cordayja filmed of herself singing and dancing.
“Whenever I was with her she was on my phone taking pictures,” she says. “When I want to hear her voice, I’m just going to look at my phone.”
Jones says that Cordayja’s mother and family have been “taking it very hard” but are sticking together amidst the tragedy.
“Were trying to comfort each other,” Jones says. “We find ourselves sitting back talking to her or reminiscing, and then sometimes you just have to break down. I sat in my car last night and just broke down and screamed. It’s hard.”