Sixth child dies from Tenn. School Bus Crash

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — A sixth child died Wednesday, two days after being injured in a school bus accident that killed five other elementary school students, police said.

Johnthony Walker, 24, was arrested after the accident Monday and charged with five counts of vehicular homicide. Chattanooga police said Wednesday that toxicology tests found no alcohol or drugs in his system, but Walker was driving well over the posted 30 mph limit on winding Talley Road when he lost control of the bus, which was not equipped with seat belts.

Several family members of the victims told media outlets they had complained that Walker was speeding on the job.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday afternoon that Talley Road, where the crash occurred, was not on the bus' designated route, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Walker was jailed with bail set at $107,500 on charges that included reckless driving and reckless endangerment. He has a court date Tuesday.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who visited the children's elementary school Wednesday, said state agencies will review school bus safety protocol to "make certain that we don't have one more of these." Tennessee's Department of Education and Department of Safety and Homeland Security will participate.

"It's time for us to step back, all of us — local school boards, the state — and look at the whole school bus process," Haslam said outside Woodmore Elementary School in the working-class Brainerd neighborhood of Chattanooga. He said the thorough review would include everything from hiring drivers, to ensuring the safety of equipment, to looking at seat belts for the kids.

Lawmakers already were drafting legislation to require seat belts on buses, and National Transportation Safety Board investigators were gathering evidence as they tried to piece together exactly what happened during the crash.

Walker, who received his commercial driver's license in April, worked for the private Durham School Services company that contracted with Hamilton County schools. Walker had been in a school bus crash in September, according to Chattanooga police.

School officials previously had said Durham School Services was responsible for monitoring Walker's performance and disciplining him when necessary.

But school officials would not answer repeated questions about family complaints during a brief news conference Wednesday. Instead, Woodmore Principal Brenda Cothran said the school's focus was "on giving our families and students the support that they need."

 

In an emotional video posted to YouTube on Wednesday, Durham School Services CEO David A. Duke said he was "not able to elaborate" on the crash, but he promised his company would offer "any support that we can" to victims. He added that his company would cooperate fully with investigators.

"Nothing that I can say can take away the pain and the grief for these families," Duke said. "My responsibility now is to look for answers. Answers about why this tragedy occurred and answers for how we can make sure that this never, ever happens again."

As Thanksgiving approached, Woodmore families were making funeral plans or keeping vigil beside hospital beds.

Haslam met with some of the injured students and their families at Erlanger Health System. He told reporters he had come to Chattanooga to express the state's shared grief.

"You're not supposed to have elementary classrooms with empty desks," Haslam said. "The sorrow that all of us feel is incredibly deep."

Families identified the children who died as:

• Cordayja Jones, 9. According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Cordayja loved being a big sister and was a kind-hearted girl, said her cousin, LaFrederick Thirkill, who is also the principal at Orchard Knob Elementary School.

• Zoie Nash, 9. Zoie was a fourth-grader who loved playing softball, made good grades and was also on a dance team, her uncle, Antwon McClain, told the Times Free Press. She was the only girl in a family of brothers. One of her brothers was injured in the crash.

• Six-year-old D'Myunn Brown was also killed, his family confirmed to the Times Free Press.

• Zyanna Harris, 10, was funny, sassy and not shy, close friend Tar'Dajah Rucker, 13, told the Times Free Press.

• Zyaira Mateen, 6. Her mother confirmed she died in the crash, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 

• Keontae Wilson, 8, died Wednesday from his injuries, the Times Free Pressreported.

Follow Natalie Neysa Alund and Adam Tamburin on Twitter: @nataliealund and @tamburintweets

 


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