A Tennessee bus company had reportedly been informed about a bus driver’s dangerous driving and behavior just days before a fatal crash that killed six children.
Durham School Services, which operates Hamilton County Schools’ buses, was warned twice about complaints against driver Johnthony Walker, the district said.
A school district official had last spoken to bus company personnel about the complaints three days before the deadly November 21 crash involving children from Woodmore Elementary School in Chattanooga, according to the AJC.
The school district’s transportation supervisor, Benjamin Coulter, spoke in person to personnel from the contracted school bus company about the written complaints first on November 16, the district said in a statement released on Tuesday.
Coulter then spoke to Durham School Services personnel again on November 18, records show.
At this time, it is not clear if Durham School services had taken any disciplinary action against Walker after being informed about the complaints.
Two students had previously filed written statements complaining about Walker’s driving, according to records released by the school district last week.
‘The bus driver drives fast,’ one student wrote earlier this month.
‘It feels like the bus is going to flip over… 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.’
Administrators had also raised concerns about Walker’s behavior behind the wheel in the weeks before the crash.
On November 16, Woodmore Principal Brenda Adamson-Cothran wrote to Coulter to tell him six students had reported that the driver ‘was swerving and purposely trying to cause them to fall today.’
And on November 2, a school official also noted his erratic behavior when driving after riding the bus with students after Walker complained the children were not listening to him.
During that bus trip, one student had complained about the heat on the bus and cursed about it to the bus driver.
‘The driver was now visibly upset and continued on by saying that he had another job and driving this bus was just a part-time job for him,’ wrote Carlis Shackelford, a behavioral specialist at the school.
‘Driver stated that he could just leave him 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”.
‘Driver stated that he did not care about the students and proceeded to tell the students he did not care about them,’ Shackelford wrote.
Walker, 24, who made his first court appearance on Tuesday, has been charged with five counts of vehicular homicide.
Another count will be added for a child who died two days after the crash, police said.
At the time of the crash, Walker had left the designated bus route when he crashed on a curvy road while carrying 37 students from kindergarten through fifth grade, federal investigators said.
Chattanooga police suspect Walker was speeding.
A toxicology test showed Walker had no drugs or alcohol in his system, police said.
Defense attorney Amanda Dunn said she anticipates her client will plead not guilty if a grand jury indicts him.
Dunn said the accident has been ‘devastating’ for Walker and his family.
‘Although he stands accused of wrongdoing, Mr. Walker is an innocent man in the eyes of the law until proven otherwise,’ Dunn said in an email.
The prosecutor and defense attorney agreed to have the preliminary hearing for Walker moved to December 15.
Over the weekend, grieving families began holding funerals for their lost children.
The funeral for nine-year-old Cor’Dayja Jones was held on Saturday while ten-year-old Zyanna Janal Harris’ services followed on Sunday.
The funeral for Zoie Nash, 9, is scheduled for Thursday.
In a Facebook post, Woodmore Elementary School said funeral arrangements have not been finalized for six-year-old D’Myunn Brown, six-year-old Zyaira Mateen and eight-year-old Keonte Wilson.
A fund created for the victims’ families has raised more than $112,000.