School bus driver arrested as city mourns 5 children

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — A school bus driver was behind bars Tuesday after a crash killed five youngsters and plunged Chattanooga into mourning over what the mayor called the “most unnatural thing in the world” — a parent losing a child.

Police said Johnthony Walker, 24, was speeding along a narrow, winding road Monday afternoon with 35 elementary school students aboard when he wrapped the bus around a tree. Walker was arrested and charged with five counts of vehicular homicide.

Reeling from the tragedy, Chattanoogans lined up to donate blood, created a memorial of flowers and stuffed toys at the crash scene and planned an evening prayer vigil. Parents who send their children off to school every day struggled to come to grips with the shock and break the news to their loved ones.

“It’s real tough, said Dujuan Butchee, whose daughters, Jamya and Janesa, are eighth-graders who used to go to the same school as the youngsters killed in the wreck. “It’s tough on my kids because they know some of the victims as well.”

Butchee said it wasn’t the first time he heard about a bus speeding: “I think it should wake up more bus drivers to be more cautious because you’re dealing with a lot of kids’ lives.”

Police said Walker was driving well over the posted 30 mph limit when he lost control of the bus. He was jailed on $107,500 bail for a court appearance Nov. 29 on charges that also included reckless driving and reckless endangerment.

Twelve children remained hospitalized Tuesday, six in intensive care, said Kirk Kelly, interim school superintendent.

Three of the children killed were in fourth grade, one was in first grade and another in kindergarten, Kelly said.

Their families were notified, but their names were not released.