A school bus driver responsible for a crash that killed 5 children and injured dozens more was involved in another collision just two months prior to the deadly incident, and had only received his driver's license in April.
The Daily Mail reports that 24-year-old Johnthony Walker was charged with five counts of vehicular homicide after a collision involving the bus he was driving and an oncoming SUV.
Walker was driving the Woodmore Elementary school bus in Chattanooga, Tennessee, when he hit the SUV and sped off the road into a tree. Police said he had been traveling over the designated 30 mph limit.
Five children died in the accident -- three fourth-graders, a first-grader, and a kindergarten boy. And nearly two dozen more are injured, some critically.
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ABC News reports that Walker’s prior accident was a minor one in which he sideswiped an SUV, also while driving a school bus. No injuries were reported, and no charges were filed. Walker did receive a citation for failure to yield as a result of that incident.
Jasmine Mateen, the mother of three children who were in the crash, claims that her children came home each day complaining about Walker. She spoke about her futile attempts at reporting Walker for reckless driving.
“I have been calling complaining about this bus driver since August,” she said.
Mateen claims she both called and wrote to the Board of Education and Woodmore Elementary School about Walker, to no avail. “Y’all doing what y'all supposed to be doing but my baby laying in a cold freezer,” she said as she broke down into tears.
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Mateen also claims that the last words Walker said to the children before he slammed into the tree were: “Are y'all ready to die?”
Craig Harris, a father of two children who had been on the bus, said that Walker sometimes drove too fast. “There has been times where I've seen him going a little faster than he probably should be going,” Harris said.
But Walker's mother, Gwenevere Cook, said that grieving parents should not lash out at her son. “My heart of love is going out to all that were in harm’s way in this horrible accident of God’s will,” she said. “I pray we all can just get this some way without judging my son. It happened. God don’t make mistakes. We do.”
Cook claims that Walker called her immediately following the accident and said, "Mama, I love you," and told her he had been involved in a serious accident. She also claims that Walker was carrying children off the bus, some of whom were already dead.
“He's never been in trouble before. He is a respected young man, grew up in Chattanooga and is liked by everyone,” Cook said.
Walker’s bus had been carrying 35 children at the time of the crash. The five deceased have been identified as Zyanna Harris; Cordayja Jones; a girl called Zoey; 6-year-old D'Myunn Brown; and Mateen's daughter. Several dozen more were injured, some so severely that they couldn’t remember their names or where they lived.
Hamilton County School District spokeswoman Amy Kutcher declined to confirm if the district had received any complaints about Walker, who was employed by an outside bus contractor, Durham School Services.
“We've got 192 Durham bus drivers,” Kutcher said. “Obviously, this is a bad one.”
Durham is an Illinois-based company that operates around 13,700 vehicles across the U.S., according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Federal figures show that the company has had 346 crashes over two years, including three resulting in deaths and 142 with injuries.
“It's real tough,” said Dujuan Butchee, whose daughters attended the same school as the children killed in the wreck. “It's tough on my kids because they know some of the victims as well. I think it should wake up more bus drivers to be more cautious because you're dealing with a lot of kids' lives.”