5 killed in Chattanooga school bus crash; Driver arrested

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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WKRN/WSPA) – Five children were killed in a tragic school bus crash in Chattanooga, and at least 23 were taken to two nearby hospitals.

Chattanooga police chief Fred Fletcher confirmed the deaths Monday night and said the bus driver was arrested.

The crash happened about 3:30 p.m on Talley Road, not far from Woodmore Elementary School from where the bus was transporting kids from between kindergarten and fifth grade.

Chief Fletcher said the bus was the only vehicle involved in the crash. It ended up on its side and wrapped around a tree in a residential neighborhood.

It took emergency responders over two hours to rescue and pull the children from the bus “using a number of specialized tools, strategies and tactics,” the chief said in the press briefing.

The 5 victims included 4 girls and 1 boy.  Three were in 4th grade, the other victims were a kindergartner and the first grader.  Their names will not be released.

The Hamilton County Superintendent Kirk Kelly said Tuesday that 12 children remained in the hospital, including 6 who were still in ICU.

“Our hearts are going out with families,” said Kelly. “This is the toughest thing you can do.  Hopefully with time–but you never get over this.  We’re just reaching out and doing whatever we can in terms of words and comfort and support for the families and that’s something we will do now going forward.”

The bus driver was identified as Johnthony Walker, age 24. He has been charged with five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment, and reckless driving.

“There may be more charges added as this case proceeds to the grand jury here in Hamilton County,” Fletcher told reporters.

Details on Walker’s history as a school bus driver weren’t immediately known.  Tuesday, the school superintendent said that the school contracts with Durham Bus Services.

While the cause of the crash remains under investigation, the police chief said earlier in the day they are “very, very strongly” investigating speed as the primary factor.

The police department has also issued a warrant to remove the black box from the school bus and review the video surveillance inside.

The National Transportation Safety Board announced they are responding to the crash site Tuesday morning to aid in the investigation.  The Chairman of the NTSB, Christopher Hart, said the team will spend 7-10 days on the ground, but it could be up to a year before a final report is finished.  Hart was unsure whether the bus had seat belts.  He said that the NTSB is focused on finding the cause and making any recommendations which could prevent future accidents.

“My daughter rides the school bus every day” said Hart.  “I understand that.  We will do everything we can to prevent this from happening again.”

Blood Assurance put out a call to anyone who can donate blood or platelets to help the victims, and many showed up to do so with some being told to make appointments for Tuesday. Those who can donate are asked to call 1-800-962-0628 to schedule an appointment. Click here to check a list of donor centers.

There was also an outpouring of thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families from across the state and country alike, from officials and athletes to celebrities and CEOs. Click here to read what they had to say.

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