School Bus Driver Allegedly Speeding 'Well Above' 30 MPH Limit Before Crash Killed 5 Kids
The school bus driver charged in Monday’s fatal bus crash in Tennessee — which killed five elementary school students and critically injured several more — was allegedly speeding and driving in a “reckless” manner before he lost control of the vehicle, according to an arrest report obtained by PEOPLE.
The report alleges Johnthony Walker, 24, “was driving the school bus at a high rate of speed, well above the posted speed limit” of 30 mph. Additional records show Walker has a checkered history on the road, including a previous traffic collision while driving a school bus.
According to his arrest report, Walker allegedly lost control of the school bus on Monday and swerved off the right side of the road into an elevated driveway and mailbox before swerving back to the left, causing the school bus to overturn and strike a tree and a utility pole.
Three fourth-graders, a first-grader and a kindergartner were killed in the crash, Hamilton County Superintendent Kirk Kelly said Tuesday, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press and The Tennessean. Their names have not been released.
Walker was arrested on five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving.
The arrest report says officers charged Walker because “of the reckless nature of Mr. Walker’s driving, combined with his very high speed and weaving within his lane.”
Walker is being held on bond of $107,500 and his first court appearance is Nov. 29 at 8:30 a.m., a Hamilton County Court official tells PEOPLE, adding that he has not yet entered a plea or retained an attorney.
A Checkered Driving History
According to records obtained by PEOPLE, this week’s crash was actually Walker’s second traffic collision in as many months. In both incidents, Walker was operating a school bus, the records show.
On Sept. 20, Walker was driving a bus down Sylvan Drive in Chattanooga when he allegedly sideswiped a Kia Soul that was traveling in the opposite traffic lane, according to state records.
The collision occurred when Walker allegedly failed to yield at a blind curve, resulting in $400 in body damage, the records show. No one was injured in the crash, and it is unclear if there were any students on the bus at the time. The results of chemical testing showed Walker had no alcohol or drugs in his system.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is conducting toxicology tests on Walker following Monday’s crash, spokeswoman Susan Niland tells PEOPLE.
Walker had no criminal history in Tennessee prior to his Monday arrest, according to the TBI.
His 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 confirms to PEOPLE.
Safety History of School Bus Company
Durham School Services, the company that owns the school bus the students were riding in, has an overall satisfactory safety rating from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration — but its vehicles have nonetheless been involved in 142 injury crashes in the last 24 months, according to FMCSA records.
Three of the crashes had fatalities, according to FMCSA records.
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Durham operates more than 13,000 vehicles, so the crashes comprise only a tiny fraction of its operations. Still, according to the FMCSA’s records, “93 [percent] of motor carriers in the same safety event group have better on-road performance than this motor carrier.”
Durham School Services CEO David A. Duke posted a statement Tuesday to Twitter describing the crash as an “accident” and said, in part, “Our entire team at Durham School Services is devastated by the accident yesterday that tragically claimed the lives of Chattanooga students.
“We are working with the Chattanooga Police Department and Hamilton County School District to investigate.”
Citing that ongoing investigation, Durham has previously declined to answer further questions.
‘The Kids Are Dead’
The National Transportation Safety Board announced it was also investigating the crash, with a news conference planned for Tuesday afternoon.
Walker’s mother, Gwenevere Cook, told CNN he called her moments after the crash.
“‘Mama, I love you. I have been in a drastic accident,’ ” Cook (who could not immediately be reached) recalled Walker saying. “He texted me minutes later saying the kids are dead.”
“It is a horrible nightmare,” Cook said. “I feel bad for my son, and I am torn up for the [victims’] family members.”
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