Police: Bus driver going 'well above' speed limit before deadly crash

CHATTANOOGA, TENN. - A school bus driver was going "well above" the posted speed limit of 30 m.p.h. before a fatal crash in Chattanooga that killed five elementary school children on Monday, according to the arrest report. 

The private company that owned the bus has 142 crashes with injuries and three fatalities in the last two years, federal records show.

Johnthony Walker, 24, of Chattanooga was arrested on five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment, and reckless driving. 

Four girls and one boy from Woodmore Elementary School died, Hamilton County Interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly confirmed Tuesday morning. Twelve students remained in the hospital, Kelly added. 

Police determined Walker was driving at a high speed on the narrow winding road, based on witness statements and physical evidence. 

Walker was driving a bus owned by Durham School Services, which contracts with the Hamilton County School system. 

The CEO of the company said they are "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," CEO David A. Duke said in a statement. 

WBIR asked Durham officials what qualifications and requirements are needed to drive buses for them. 

A company spokesperson added that since the "whole team is mourning the loss of the students in Chattanooga" Durham will not comment further. 

Durham School Services, based in Warrenville, Ill., has more than 13,000 vehicles and 13,000 drivers, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. They're a large company, and they have an overall satisfactory safety rating from the administration, but they still have more problems when it comes to driver fitness than their peers, the records show.

The administration's records on Durham state "93% of motor carriers in the same safety event group have better on-road performance than this motor carrier."

A safety event group includes other similar bus and truck companies. In the last 24 months, Durham has been involved in 346 crashes, 201 of which were towaway wrecks. That data was last updated in late October.

Walker's arrest report stated he lost control of the bus and swerved off the right side of the road, striking an elevated driveway and mailbox, then swerved to the left and the bus began to overturn and hit a telephone pole and a tree. 

"Because of the reckless nature of Mr. Walker's driving, combined with his very high speed and weaving within his lane, Mr. Walker was charged with five counts of vehicular homicide by recklessness, reckless endangerment, and reckless driving," the report said.  

Walker's bond is set at $107,500. 

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation told 10News it appears Walker does not have a previous criminal history in Tennessee. 

The Tennessean contributed to this report.

(© 2016 WBIR)


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