School Officials, Students Raised Concerns About Driver Prior to Fatal Bus Crash

Nov 28, 2016

Emergency responders work the scene of the fatal Talley Road school bus crash on 11/21/16.
Credit Chattanooga Fire Department

Shortly before a fatal school bus crash in Chattanooga, students were complaining about the driver, according to records the Hamilton County Department of Education released to local media.

Twenty-four year-old Johnthony Walker was driving a bus that veered off Talley Road, hitting a utility pole, then a tree. The impact killed five Woodmore Elementary students. A sixth died later in a hospital. Walker is charged with multiple counts of vehicular homicide, reckless driving, and reckless endangerment.

In response to an open records request, the school district has released a collection of emails, handwritten notes and other documents that show multiple complaints about Walker prior to the wreck.

One student reported the driver went too fast, and the bus felt like it was going to flip over. Another student wrote, “We need seat belts.”

The records released by the school district also detail concerns from Brenda Adamson Cothran, Woodmore Elementary's principal. On November 11, she emailed the school district’s transportation supervisor, saying she’d recently seen the driver going way too fast, in her opinion, when pulling out of the school.

The driver worked for Durham School Services, a private contractor, and a Durham manager was in the loop when school officials were documenting several complaints about the driver.

Less than a week before the crash, the district’s transportation supervisor emailed two Durham supervisors, asking them to pull video from a recent bus trip. School officials were trying to verify complaints that the driver had been swerving and purposely trying to make students fall.

The emails don't detail what, if any, corrective actions Durham took after those complaints.

Monday morning, exactly one week after the crash, Hamilton County Schools Interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly said five Woodmore Elementary students remain in the hospital, with three still in critical condition.