Five children killed in Chattanooga school bus crash, driver arrested

One boy & three girls lost their lives
Posted at 4:23 AM, Nov 22, 2016

A school bus crash has claimed the lives of five young children and wounded several others Monday in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

According to interim superintendent Kirk Kelly of the Hamilton County Department of Education, three of the children who died were fourth-graders, one was a first-grader and the other was in kindergarten. Four of the five victims were girls, Kelly told reporters this morning.

Police said the families of the five victims have been notified, but their names will not be released because they were juveniles.

"Our hearts go out, as well as the hearts of all these people behind me, to the families, the neighborhood, the school, for all the people involved in this, we assure you we are doing everything we can," Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher said.

The bus was carrying 37 children from Woodmore Elementary School when it crashed into a tree at around 3:30 p.m. local time on Monday, according to officials.

The 32 survivors have been accounted for. At least 24 students were taken to the hospital for critical and non-critical injuries suffered in the crash. Six remained in intensive care and six others were still hospitalized as of Tuesday morning, officials said. Further details were not released.

One father, Craig Harris, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that his daughter, stepson and niece were all involved in the accident.

"My daughter and my stepson, they're in a lot of pain and a little bit of shock still, but for the most part, they're fine. My niece, she’s in recovery this morning. She just got out of surgery about an hour ago and they're just keeping a close eye on her,” Harris said.

Harris said his niece's injuries were so severe that doctors said she was at risk of losing an arm because of a torn vein that had to be replaced.

"She's looking at a long road of recovery and a lot more surgeries, but she's here," Harris said.

Police said the bus driver, identified as 24-year-old Johnthony Walker, is in custody and has been charged with five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving. Walker is being held on $20,000 bond, and he is due to appear in court on Nov. 29.

According to the affidavit of complaint obtained by ABC News, police said Walker was driving above the 30 mph speed limit on Talley Road, a narrow, winding road. Walker lost control of the bus and swerved off the roadway to the right, striking an elevated driveway and a mailbox. Walker then swerved to the left and the school bus began to overturn, striking a telephone pole and wrapping around a tree, according to the affidavit.

Authorities have issued a warrant to remove the black box from the school bus and review evidence on the bus video cameras, according to the Chattanooga police chief.

“There could easily be more charges added, for injuries of other children,” Fletcher told reporters this morning.

Following the fatal crash, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke declared the city in mourning.

"The most unnatural thing in the world is for a parent to mourn the loss of a child," Berke said. "There are no words that can bring comfort to a mother or a father. So today, the city is praying for these families."

ABC News' Matt Foster, J.J. Gallagher, Michael Edison Hayden, Joshua Hoyos, Tom Liddy, Dominick Proto and Jason Volack contributed to this report.