Tuesday, November 22, 2016
UPDATE on the #ChattanoogaBusCrash that killed 5 children! [details]
Such a SAD, tragic end to lives so young.... Chattanooga, Tennessee is SHOOK by the death of 5 children in a tragic school bus accident.
Jasmine Mateen was standing outside her home here on Tuesday afternoon when her cellphone went off: Two of her daughters, who were injured when their school bus crashed on Monday, were being discharged from the hospital.
The news pulled her briefly from her grief. Moments before, Ms. Mateen had been talking about her 6-year-old daughter Zyaira, the girl with the new leopard-print coat, who died in the same bus crash that injured two of Ms. Mateen’s other daughters.
“My baby’s coming home, but her sister’s dead,” Ms. Mateen said as a single tear rolled down her left cheek.
“Even though she was the one who told me my baby was dead, I just didn’t want to believe it,” she said of her other 6-year-old, Zasmyn. The third daughter on board, Zacauree’A Brown, is 10. “I couldn’t believe it. You know how you try to hold onto hope?”
This city, just north of Tennessee’s border with Georgia, reeled on Tuesday as it coped with the grim toll of the deadly school bus crash. The authorities said that at least five Woodmore Elementary School students — four girls and a boy — had died, and that another 12 were still hospitalized. Six of the children were in intensive care.
Elsewhere in Chattanooga, the bus driver, Johnthony K. Walker, 24, was jailed and charged with vehicular homicide after the authorities said he had recklessly sped and swerved during his afternoon route.
“We are heartbroken for all of our students and their families,” said Kirk Kelly, the interim schools superintendent in Hamilton County. “Yesterday was the worst day that we have had for Woodmore and for Hamilton County Schools that I can recall in my life as an educator and as a parent and as a member of this community.”
Three of the students who died were in the fourth grade. The other children who were killed were in kindergarten and first grade, Dr. Kelly said, but he did not identify the students.
“They will always be with us throughout our lives,” he said. “This is something that we will never forget here as a community.”
The bus was removed from the scene on Tuesday, and crews worked along the blocked street to restore the utility pole that the police said Mr. Walker had struck. A small memorial of stuffed animals and flowers took shape, and investigators reviewed the crash site.
The National Transportation Safety Board opened an investigation, and it will be months before federal officials reach any conclusions. But the Chattanooga authorities moved quickly to assign blame, and in an arrest affidavit issued on Tuesday, a police officer wrote that Mr. Walker had been driving “at a high rate of speed, well above the posted speed limit of 30 m.p.h.”
Eventually, the police said, Mr. Walker “lost control of the bus” and swerved off the narrow roadway. The bus, which ultimately landed on its side, struck a mailbox, an elevated driveway, a tree and a telephone pole.
The officer, explaining the decision to charge Mr. Walker with vehicular homicide and other crimes, cited “the reckless nature” of his driving, as well as “his very high speed and weaving within his lane.” Tests for drugs and alcohol are pending, Chief Fred Fletcher of the Chattanooga Police Department said in an interview on Tuesday.
Federal investigators say they expect to interview Mr. Walker, who received his commercial driver’s license in April and was involved in a minor bus crash in September.
Mr. Walker’s employer, Durham School Services, which holds a contract to bus thousands of Hamilton County students each day, said in a statement that it was “devastated by the accident.” The statement did not address questions about the company’s hiring practices, nor did it respond to reports that parents, including Ms. Mateen, had complained about Mr. Walker.
A criminal history report from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation indicated that Mr. Walker had no arrests before the crash on Monday, but State Department of Safety and Homeland Security records showed that his license was suspended briefly in 2014 for an insurance violation.
Emotions were raw outside Woodmore on Tuesday, where Demetrius Jenkins stood around daybreak and thought about how he had not yet told his son about the crash.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Mr. Jenkins said while students ran, walked and skipped toward the school for their final day of classes before Thanksgiving break. The school district said that about 100 of Woodmore’s approximately 315 students were in their classrooms on Tuesday. [source: New York Times]