Tennessee School Bus Driver Charged After Crash That Killed 5 Elementary Students
The bus, which had 35 children aboard, turned on its side and wrapped around a tree, authorities said
A Tennessee school bus driver is facing vehicular homicide charges after the bus he was driving crashed on Monday, killing five elementary school students and critically injuring several more, school officials and police say.
Johnthony Walker, 24, was arrested and charged with five counts of vehicular homicide as a result of the crash on Talley Road in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher said at a news conference late Monday night that Walker was also charged with reckless endangerment and reckless driving “to begin with.”
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.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is currently conducting toxicology tests on Walker, spokeswoman Susan Niland tells PEOPLE.
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.
“This is something we will never forget as a community,” Kelly reportedly said.
The school bus crashed, turned on its side and wrapped around a tree, according to the Associated Press. The bus had 35 children on board. And the vehicle was so mangled after the crash that it took rescue crews more than two hours to get the children to safety, according to Good Morning America.
Officials have called it an “absolute nightmare.”
The children on the bus were students from Woodmore Elementary School in Chattanooga. Among the passengers, school grades ranged from kindergarten to fifth grade.
Officials said they are looking into the “excessive speed” the bus was going at the time of the crash, and a warrant has been issued to test Walker’s blood to determine whether any “outside influences” played a part in the deadly incident.
WATCH: Tennessee School Bus Driver Charged After Crash That Killed 5 Elementary Students
One grieving father told Good Morning America on Tuesday that his daughter, stepson and niece were all on the bus at the time of the crash.
He said while his daughter and stepson are okay, his niece was in surgery Tuesday morning.
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
“She’s looking at a long road of recovery and a lot more surgeries, but she’s here,” he said. He added that the possibility of a crash has always been a “big fear of his.” And he said that when he first received news of the tragedy, he “almost lost it.”
“It’s something I never want to face again,” he said, adding, “I don’t know [Walker] personally. Honestly, there has been times where I’ve seen him going a little faster than he probably should be going.”
Fletcher said the parents of the five dead children had been notified, but that the names would be withheld as they were minors. Officials were trying to reunite the other crash victims with their parents on Monday, he said.
Woodmore Elementary remained open on Tuesday, according to reports, with counselors and other support staff available.
GMA reports that dozens of Chattanooga residents showed up at a local hospital to donate blood after the crash.
Fletcher said a warrant was issued to remove video footage from the bus to help in the ongoing investigation. Multiple organizations and people have offered assistance, including the federal government, according to Fletcher.
The National Transportation Safety Board has also said it will be investigating, according to the Tennessean.
“Our hearts go out, as well as the hearts of all these people behind me, to the families, the neighborhood, the school, for all the people involved in this,” Fletcher said earlier on Monday.
“We assure you we are doing everything we can.”
Fletcher said police were interviewing the bus driver, according to the AP.
Carina Noble, a spokeswoman for Durham School Services, released a statement confirming the school bus was theirs.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the students and families who are affected,” the statement read. “Because this is an active investigation, we are unable to answer any questions at this time as we work with authorities.”
Durham School Services CEO David A. Duke posted a statement to Twitter reading, 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.”