The driver of the Tennessee school bus that crashed on Monday, killing five young children and injuring 23 more, asked the kids, “Are y’all ready to die?” says a devastated parent who had three children on the bus. Jasmine Mateen, the grieving mother who lost one of her children in the accident, told CBS News that Johnthony Walker asked the question right before the bus slammed into a telephone pole and a tree. Mateen also said that she had repeatedly complained about Walker but that no officials had responded. A spokeswoman for the Hamilton County District Attorney’s office, however, says school officials have found “no record of complaints against Walker.”
Walker, 24, was well above the 30-mph speed limit while driving the 35 5- to 10-year-olds home from the Woodmore Elementary School, crashing on a narrow road about a mile from the school, according to Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher.
One student aboard the bus told WDEF-TV that the driver “wasn’t paying attention and was going real fast.”
The school bus was the only vehicle involved in the crash, according to Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher.
As the survivors of the crash began to arrive in the pediatric emergency room, some of the injured children were so young and frightened they could barely communicate, the Chicago Tribune reports. Many couldn’t spell their names, others couldn’t remember their birthdays or their parents’ names. They just said “Momma” when asked.
“Many of them were scared or too dazed to talk to us,” [Dr. Darvey] Koller said at a news conference Tuesday.
Thirty-five children had been riding on a bus police said was traveling too fast Monday afternoon when it veered off a narrow, winding road and crashed into a tree on the way home from elementary school.
Five children died in the crash. Twenty-three were taken to area hospitals, where 12 remained Tuesday evening — six still in critical condition.
Walker has been charged with five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment, and reckless driving. He is being held on $107,500 bond.
Next page: This was not Walker’s first bus crash
He crashed a school bus into another vehicle back in September, only two months before the fatal crash, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.
Walker was driving his bus east into a curve on Sylvan Drive around 2:40 pm on Sept. 20 when he crossed the center line, the report shows. His bus then swiped the side of a Kia Soul, whose driver was heading west through the curve.
Nobody was injured in the crash, according to the report, and only minor damage marked both vehicles.
Although Walker does not have a criminal record, his license was suspended for a few weeks in 2014 due to failure to provide proof of insurance.
In 2014, Walker failed to show proof of insurance, leading to his license being suspended from March 3, 2014 through March 28, 2014 before being reinstated.
Durham School Services, the Illinois-based company that owned the bus involved in Monday’s fatal crash, has had 142 crashes with injuries and three fatalities in the last two years, according to federal records.
DSS released the following statement on their website:
Our entire team at Durham School Services is devastated by the accident yesterday that tragically claimed the lives of Chattanooga students. We are working with Chattanooga Police Department and Hamilton County School District to investigate. We also have additional team members arriving in Chattanooga today to provide support. We have offered to provide counseling to students and families of Hamilton County, as well as our employees. We will provide all further updates in coordination with the Chattanooga Police Department and the District.