Community mourns 5 children killed in bus crash - WSMV News 4

Community mourns 5 children killed in bus crash; 5 remain in critical condition

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Crews towed the bus away from the scene of the crash on Tuesday morning. (WSMV) Crews towed the bus away from the scene of the crash on Tuesday morning. (WSMV)
The driver, Johnthony Walker, is charged with five counts of vehicular homicide. (Source: Chattanooga Police Department) The driver, Johnthony Walker, is charged with five counts of vehicular homicide. (Source: Chattanooga Police Department)
Dozens of students were transported to area hospitals after the crash. (Source: Chattanooga Fire Department) Dozens of students were transported to area hospitals after the crash. (Source: Chattanooga Fire Department)
A makeshift memorial has been set up at the scene of the crash. (WSMV) A makeshift memorial has been set up at the scene of the crash. (WSMV)

Five children were killed and five others are fighting for their lives after a school bus crash in Chattanooga on Monday.

In a news conference Tuesday morning, Hamilton County Schools Interim Superintendent Dr. Kirk Kelly confirmed that four girls and one boy were killed in the crash. Three were fourth-graders, one was a first-grader and another was in kindergarten.

The driver, 24-year-old Johnthony Walker, was arrested on Monday night and charged with five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving.

Charges may be added as the case goes to the grand jury. Walker is being held on $107,500 bond.

The victims

The Chattanooga Times Free Press has identified the five young victims in the crash. They range in age from 6 to 10.

The youngest victims, D’Myunn Brown and Zyaira Mateen, were both 6 years old.

Cordayja Jones and Zoie Nash were both 9 years old.

The oldest victim is Zyanna Harris, 10.

According to the Times Free Press, someone from each of the families reached out to different news organization to confirm the identities.

Click here to see photos of the victims.

Investigating the crash

The bus crash happened around 3:30 p.m. local time in the 300 block of Talley Road.

According to the affidavit, witnesses told police that Walker was driving "well above" the 30 mph speed limit on the narrow, winding road.

Walker allegedly lost control of the bus, causing him to swerve off the road and hit a telephone pole and a tree. The affidavit also notes the "reckless nature" of Walker's driving, pointing out his "very high speed and weaving within his lane." Click here to read the affidavit.

National Transportation Safety Board officials said there were two cameras on the bus: one on the exterior and another on the interior. They have not yet seen the footage, but investigators hope it will provide some answers.

The bus also had a black box that should be able to give investigators information about things like speed at the time of the crash.

The driver's background

The TBI has confirmed Walker did not have any other criminal offenses on his record prior to the crash. 

According to a driving history report from the state, Walker was involved a wreck in a school bus two months ago. On Sept. 20, Walker was driving a school bus on Sylvan Drive in Chattanooga. That's when, according to the police report, he sideswiped a Kia Soul going in the opposite direction. Click here to read the full report.

At a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, an NTSB official said Walker obtained his commercial license in April of this year.

Kelly said Walker is a contractor for the school district and is employed by Durham School Services.

David Duke, CEO of Durham School Services, released the following statement about the crash:

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 Chattanooga Police Department and  Hamilton County School District to investigate.  We also have additional team members arriving in Chattanooga today to provide support. We have offered to provide counseling to students and families of Hamilton County, as well as our employees.  We will provide all further updates in coordination with the Chattanooga Police Department and the District.

Driver's mother talks to CNN

Walker's mother, Gwenevere Cook, told CNN that Walker was trying to pull the children off the bus.

"He is a marvelous son. For two years he worked two jobs. He's never been in trouble before," Cook said. "He is a respected young man, grew up in Chattanooga and is liked by everyone."

Cook told CNN that Walker has a 3-year-old son.

She released this statement to the news outlet:

This is a horrible accident. But this was God's will and all we can do is try to get through it with God's grace. It is a horrible nightmare. I feel bad for my son and I am torn up for the family members. All this is new to us. He was trying to get kids off the bus but there was so much blood. When he talked to me, he was terrified. He told me I've been in an accident, he was trying to get this kids off the bus.

5 students in critical condition

Thirty-seven Woodmore Elementary School students were on the bus at the time of the crash, ranging in age from kindergarten to fifth grade.

As of Wednesday morning, only six students were still receiving treatment at the Children's Hospital at Erlanger. Five of those children are listed in critical condition. The sixth child was recently transferred from an intensive care unit to a regular hospital room.

The other six children who were at the hospital on Tuesday have been discharged.

Nineteen patients were treated and released from the hospital on Monday.

At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Darvey Koller, medical director of the emergency department at the hospital, said the situation was particularly challenging because of the young age of the patients. The students had no ID and many did not know how to spell their names. He said some children were afraid to talk.

Hospital staff took pictures of all of the patients and had teachers at the school help identify the students.

Pediatric surgeon Dr. Lisa Smith said at one point, some 800 family members were in the hospital. She added donations of all types have poured in from across the country, including pizza ordered from people in Ohio.

School open day after crash

Classes went on as scheduled on Tuesday. School officials are working to provide support and extra counseling for the families who are now trying to cope with an unspeakable loss.

"We are heartbroken for all of our students and their families. Yesterday was the worst day that we have had for Woodmore and for Hamilton County Schools that I can recall in my life as an educator and as a parent and as a member of this community," Kelly said.

Many Woodmore Elementary students stayed home on Tuesday, but the ones who went to school said they didn’t want to talk about the crash.

Pat Eubanks has been a crossing guard at the school for four years. She knows many of the children at the school.

“I would have never in my wildest dream think something like this could have happened. You see them, they’re always here. I’m always here and it just happened,” Eubanks said. “It’s just like a shock.”

Lowenstein Smith's grandson was on the bus. He was one of the lucky ones who managed to walk away.

"He's really kind of traumatized. This morning he was so afraid of what had happened," Smith said.

NTSB investigators arrive in Chattanooga

NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart spoke to the media on Tuesday morning. Hart said the NTSB will be conducting a "parallel investigation" with the Chattanooga Police Department.

Hart said his agency's focus is to investigate what caused the crash and to prevent something like this from happening again. He expects his team could be on the scene for seven to 10 days.

Hart said they need help from anyone who may have witnessed the crash.

“We need that information, whether it’s testamentary information like that, pictures, cell phone video, whatever you have. We have a witness in a car behind, for example, so any information like that is very important to the investigation,” he said.

Public officials respond to crash

Chattanooga Chief of Police Fred Fletcher called the crash "every public safety official's worst nightmare."

"But that is nothing in comparison to the nightmare families and friends that have tragic loss with the children in this community," Fletcher said.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said the city is praying for the victims and their families.

"Five is a cursed number in our city right now, so we are again dealing with unimaginable loss," said Berke in a news conference Tuesday morning, referencing the killings of five service members in Chattanooga last year.

Gov. Bill Haslam reacted to the tragedy, issuing this statement:

Our thoughts and prayers are with victims of today’s tragic school bus crash in Chattanooga. It’s always a very sad situation when you have a school bus crash with children involved and we will do everything we can to assist the local authorities and the victims’ families.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-TN, former Chattanooga mayor, also issued a statement on Twitter:

Community reacts to tragedy

Hamilton County Schools has partnered with the United Way and the Community Fund of Greater Chattanooga to create a fund for the families affected by the crash on Monday. Click here to read more.

The spokeswoman for Blood Assurance said blood donations are in high demand, especially after the tragedy. All of the organization's Chattanooga locations will be open until 7 p.m. Tuesday. Locations across the state will be closed for Thanksgiving but will reopen on Friday and Saturday. Click here for information about booking an appointment.

Dozens of people gathered for a vigil for the victims on Tuesday night. Click here to read more.

Stay with Channel 4 and for updates to this developing story.

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