CHATTANOOGA – The sun is coming up on a city frozen in grief, a day after five children were killed and more injured in a horrific school bus crash.
“We are heartbroken for all of our students and their families,” Interim Hamilton County Superintendent Kirk Kelly said at a sunrise news conference outside Woodmore Elementary School. “Yesterday was the worst day we have had for Woodmore and Hamilton County schools that I can recall in my life as an educator, as a parent and as a member of this community.”
Bus driver Johnthony Walker, 24, has been charged with five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving, the Chattanooga Police Department said. Walker works for a company the school system contracts with for bus drivers, Kelly said.
“We are going to do everything we possibly can,” he said. “We want to reach out to the community. We have extra counselors on site. There are still some unanswered questions but our priority remains with our students.”
There were 37 students involved in the crash, which happened just about a mile from the school. Five died, one boy and four girls. There were three fourth graders, one kindergartner and a first grader among the fatalities. Six students are in ICU, six are in regular hospital rooms and other injured students have been released to recover at home.
Earlier reports indicated that fatalities could number six, and officials join parents and community members in praying it does not rise.
The school is open today, and the scene outside buzzes with reporters, law enforcement personnel and parents overlapping in the parking lot. Demetrius Jenkins prepared his son, Jermaine Bradley, before they pulled up. Jermaine was friends with one of the fatally injured students, but his dad hasn’t told him yet.
“He’s going to be full of tears,” Jenkins said, grateful for the school community that’s taking a proactive response in caring for their students.
“All we can do is pray,” he said. Before he left, he placed two teddy bears against the flagpole.
Kelly was at the crash site Monday.
“We will of course cooperate fully with the DA and every law enforcement agency that is involved in this investigation,” he said.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke added his prayers for the grieving.
“Five is a cursed number in our city right now,” he said. “We are again dealing with unimaginable loss. The most unnatural thing in the world is for a parent to mourn the loss of a child. Today, the city is praying for these families.”