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Chattanooga school bus driver arrested in crash that killed at least 5 children

By Madison Park, Catherine E. Shoichet and Mayra Cuevas, CNN

A school bus packed with children slammed into a tree, flipped over and split apart.

Shell-shocked students cried as rescuers worked for hours to pull them from the wreckage.
Frantic parents screamed, “That’s my baby.”

This was the horrifying scene Monday afternoon on a street in Chattanooga, Tennessee. And on Tuesday morning, the city was still reeling.

At least five children were killed in the crash, school officials said, and six others are hospitalized in an intensive care unit.

“Five is a cursed number in our city right now. We are … dealing with an unimaginable loss,” Mayor Andy Berke said. “The most unnatural thing in the world is for a parent to mourn the loss of a child.”

Bus driver Johnthony Walker has been charged with vehicular homicide.
Bus driver Johnthony Walker has been charged with vehicular homicide.

Authorities arrested the bus driver, 24-year-old Johnthony Walker, charging him with vehicular homicide. But investigators are still working to pinpoint what caused the crash.

Police chief: Investigators focusing on speed

There’s one key possibility investigators have already homed in on: speed.

“He was going real fast and he hit a garbage bag,” one of the children who was onboard told CNN affiliate WDEF-TV. “And we then hit a mailbox, then we flipped over and hit a tree real hard.”

Speed is being investigated “very, very strongly as a factor,” Chattanooga police Chief Fred Fletcher said.

Driving conditions were clear and dry, he said, and no other vehicles were involved in the crash.

Investigators are interviewing witnesses, but they’ll also have other evidence at their disposal, including video and an informational box from the bus.

A National Transportation Safety Board team arrived in Chattanooga on Tuesday morning. Among the questions they’ll be weighing: What was the driver’s history? What was the history of his employer, Durham School Services? And can anything be done to stop crashes such as this from happening in the future?

“We certainly send our condolences to the parents of those children. My daughter rides a school bus every day. I understand that,” safety board Chairman Christopher Hart told reporters earlier. “We will do everything we can to try to prevent this from happening again.”


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