Chattanooga Bus Crash Update: Driver Speeding, On Phone

New details have emerged in the case of the Chattanooga bus crash that occurred on November 21 of this year and left six elementary school students dead. CNN reported this week that a police investigator from the Chattanooga Police Department testified in court that, based on his assessment of the crash scene, the driver of the bus had been operating the vehicle at approximately twenty miles above the designated speed limit at the time of the incident. The driver, Johnthony Walker, was charged with vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment, and reckless driving.

In addition to his high rate of speed, federal authorities indicated that the route taken by Walker, 24, when the crash occurred was not an authorized one. Camera footage from within the bus on November 21 showed Walker on his cell phone, though it could not be confirmed whether or not he was using it while the vehicle was in motion. Cell phone use is strictly prohibited by school bus drivers from the time the first child boards, according to CNN. Additionally, this was the second bus crash in two months that had occurred with Walker behind the wheel, with the first one labeled minor enough to keep Walker on the road with his driving privileges intact.

The crumpled remains of this Chattanooga school bus are removed from the crash site on November 21

While Walker’s driving had amassed parent and administrator complaints prior to the crash, CBS reported that his defense counsel attempted to a more nuanced perspective of him at a preliminary hearing, electing an eyewitness report that Walker did assist two children off the mangled bus. Test results indicated that he did not have any drugs or alcohol in his system on November 21.

Durham School Services, which staffs drivers in the Hamilton County School District, is now facing multiple lawsuits from victims’ families. Walker is also named as a responsible party in the lawsuits. In response to news of the crash, Durham CEO David A. Duke issued the following statement on the company’s Twitter on November 22:

“Our entire team at Durham School Services is 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.”

In the aftermath of the crash and perhaps in an attempt to minimize its negative exposure, Durham’s Twitter account has been inundated with accounts of various staff members performing altruistic deeds within the community.

In a December 1 update to the company’s original statement, Duke issued an addendum to address Durham’s plan going forward to “strengthen the trust parents place in us…that trust to deliver their kids to school each and every day.” He delineated efforts to streamline the company’s complaint database system, to install more technologically advanced cameras in buses that are able to sense aberrations in driving or road conditions and to appoint an as-yet nonexistent position within the company, a chief safety compliance officer.

Overturned bus at the site of the Chattanooga crash

“As we do this, I remain proud of the entire Durham team,” Duke concluded. “I’m personally heartbroken by the tragedy in Tennessee. Now we are determined to learn from what happened and prevent this kind of thing from ever happening again.”

[Featured Image by Mark Humphrey/AP Images]