CHATTANOOGA (WATE) – The Chattanooga Police Department says at least five children were killed in Monday afternoon’s school bus crash. The driver has been arrested and charged with five counts of vehicular homicide among other charges.
Family members have confirmed to WKRN two of the victims were 9-year-old Cordayja Jones and 6-year-old D’Myunn Brown. The identities of the other children have not been released.
Johnthony Walker, 24, faces five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving. The bus carrying at least 35 children, from kindergartners to fifth-graders, from Woodmore Elementary School in Chattanooga crashed into a tree around 3:30 p.m. Monday, officials said.
The National Transportation Safety Board said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon there were no seat belts on the bus and they will examine whether that would have saved any of the children. They will be on scene from seven to 10 days to determine what happened and make safety recommendations. They will not determine what happened while on scene.
NTSB said they will examine the crash site and the bus, as well as video recordings from the bus. They are asking any witnesses or anyone with relevant information to contact the NTSB at email@example.com or Chattanooga Police Department at (423) 698-2525.
The Hamilton County District Attorney’s office said earlier five victims were found dead on the bus and a sixth passed away at the hospital, but police said late Monday night five had been confirmed dead.
All of the children were students at Woodmore Elementary. Of the five deaths, interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly of the Hamilton County Department of Education said three of the children were in fourth grade, one was in first grade and the other was a kindergartner, officials said. Four of the five deceased victims were girls.
“We are heartbroken for all of our students and their families,” said Kelly.
Six students are currently in the intensive care unit. Six other students are in regular hospital rooms.
“This is something that we will never forget as a community,” said Kelly. “What I saw at the scene was very tough.”
According to a report, Walker was driving above the 30 mph speed limit on a “narrow winding road.” It claims that the driver lost control of the bus and swerved off the right side of the road and hit an elevated driveway and mailbox. Then the bus swerved to the left side of the roadway before overturning and hitting a telephone pole and tree.
Walker is behind bars on a bond of $107,500. A preliminary court date has been set for November 29. It was unclear whether he has a lawyer. Kelly said the bus driver was an employee of a contractor, Durham Bus Services. NTSB said he had only had his commercial driver’s license since April.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it expects to be in the area for seven to 10 days to investigate the crash. They said a final report may take up to a year.
Woodmore Elementary remained open Tuesday in order to help grieving students and community members. Counselors were present at the school for support. The school district is working the United Way to help provide funding for the families.
Interim Superintendent Kelly called Monday “one of the worst days we have had” in the school community.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the students and families who are affected,” Carina Noble, a spokeswoman for the bus operator, said in a statement to ABC. “Because this is an active investigation, we are unable to answer any questions at this time as we work with authorities.”
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