Numerous Complaints About Driver in Fatal Chattanooga Bus Crash
In the weeks leading up to the tragic school bus crash in Chattanooga that killed six children, a number of students and administrators tried to warn the school district about the alarming behavior and erratic driving habits of the bus driver.
Records show that the school district received a number of written complaints about Johnthony K. Walker, 24, who has been charged with vehicular homicide related to the wreck. The school district also acknowledged that it had received “many emails of complaint and concern” about Walker.
“The bus driver drives fast. It feels like the bus is going to flip over,” one student wrote in a statement. “When someone is in the aisle he stops the bus and he makes people hit their heads.”
Another student wrote: “The bus driver was doing sharp turns and he made me fly over to the next seat. We need seat belts.”
Federal authorities said last week that Walker was driving off his designated bus route and speeding recklessly on a winding road when he lost control of the bus, which carried 37 children from Woodmore Elementary School. The bus left the roadway, flipped on its side, and crashed into a residence, killing six students and injuring many more. Three of the students remain in critical condition as of this writing.
In the wake of the fatal crash, school officials repeatedly declined to comment on media inquiries regarding Walker’s history with the school district. Records of the complaints against Walker came to light after The Associated Press and other media outlets filed public records requests.
A Swell of Complaints to Chattanooga School District
The complaints about Walker apparently began in September when a parent wrote a letter alleging that the driver had directed foul language at her children and slammed on the bus’s brakes, causing the children to fall out of their seats and hit their heads.
More complaints continued to flow in during the ensuing weeks. On November 2, school behavior specialist Carlis Shackelford boarded the bus and tried to intervene during a conflict between the driver and students. In his subsequent report, he wrote that the driver “stated that he did not care about the students and proceeded to tell the students he did not care about them.”
“The driver was… visibly upset and continued on by saying that he had another job and driving this bus was just a part-time job for him,” Shackelford wrote. “Driver stated that he could just leave [the student] at the school. He then stated, ‘or I can just leave the student on the bus and I will get off the bus and leave the school.’ ”
The school district’s transportation supervisor, Benjamin Coulter, responded by saying that the district “[was] addressing the issue with the driver.”
After another complaint, Woodmore Principal Brenda Adamson-Cothran asked for video of Walker’s bus leaving campus, saying that in her opinion he “was driving way too fast when he pulled out of our school.”
Walker was also involved in a school bus crash in September when he sideswiped a car in a residential area. According to the accident report, the crash resulted in no injuries and minor damage to the vehicles.
NTSB Continues to Investigate Crash Factors
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said that it is performing an investigation of the crash and its related circumstances, which will likely take months to complete. In the arrest affidavit, Chattanooga police cited Walker for “driving at a high rate of speed, well above the posted speed limit of 30 m.p.h.”
Blood tests of Walker showed no evidence of alcohol or drugs in his system at the time of the crash. The NTSB said it would investigate whether fatigue related to Walker’s second job at an Amazon fulfillment center played a role in the crash.
Durham School Services, the company that employed Walker, said in a statement that it was “devastated by the accident” but did not address questions about its hiring practices or the disturbing record of complaints about Walker. Durham and its parent company, National Express LLC, have faced public and media scrutiny and a number of notable lawsuits in recent years related to fatal school bus crashes.
Contact Morgan Adams Today for School Bus Accident Representation
Last week’s tragic events have left our community in Chattanooga reeling. Our children deserve the highest degree of protection, and when schools and school bus companies fail to meet their obligation to provide that protection, the victims who suffer the consequences deserve justice and compensation.
If someone you love has been injured in a large truck or bus crash, please get in touch with Truck Wreck Justice at (866) 580-4878 or fill out our online contact form to speak with a school bus accident attorney during a free, no-risk initial consultation. Our firm has years of experience and a track record of success handling complex truck and bus accident cases, and our founding attorney Morgan Adams dedicates his practice entirely to representing victims in these types of crashes.
We also handle cases on a contingent fee basis, which means that you’ll only pay fees or case expenses if and when we achieve a monetary award or settlement on your behalf. Please don’t wait if you and your family are hurting after a large truck or school bus crash; get in touch with us today.
Blinder, A. (2016, November 25). Records show complaints about driver in deadly Tennessee bus crash. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/25/us/tennessee-bus-crash-driver-complaints.html?_r=0
Schelzig, E. (2016, November 25). The Associated Press. Retrieved from http://bigstory.ap.org/article/3f8380497410483c86c48ed935ea6486/students-complained-about-erratic-driving-bus-wreck
Yan, H., Lance, N., & Sanchez, R. (2016, November 24). Chattanooga bus crash: 6 children dead; Titans to help victims’ families. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/23/us/chattanooga-school-bus-crash/