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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WKRN) – Five children were killed in a tragic school bus crash in Chattanooga, and at least 19 were taken to a nearby hospital with injuries.
Chattanooga police chief Fred Fletcher confirmed the deaths Monday night and said the bus driver was arrested.
The crash happened about 3:30 p.m on Talley Road, not far from Woodmore Elementary School from where the bus was transporting 37 kids from between kindergarten and fifth grade.
Chief Fletcher said the bus was the only vehicle involved in the crash. According to the driver’s arrest affidavit, 24-year-old Johnthony Walker lost control before swerving off the right side of the road, hitting an elevated driveway and mailbox. He then swerved to the left, causing the bus to overturn, hit a telephone pole, and become partially wrapped around a tree.
It took emergency responders over two hours to rescue and pull the children from the bus “using a number of specialized tools, strategies and tactics,” the chief said in the press briefing.
Five students died.
Dr. Kirk Kelly, the interim superintendent of Hamilton County Schools, confirmed the deaths on Tuesday and said three of the children were in the fourth grade, one was in first grade, and another in kindergarten.
Family members began identifying the victims Tuesday. So far, two victims have been identified as Zyanna Harris, 10; Cor’Dayja Jones, 9; D’Myunn Brown, 6; Zyaira Mateen, 6; Zoie Nash, 9. Click here for more from their families.
A total of 19 arrived to Children’s Hospital at Erlanger after the crash. The day after the crash, 12 children still remained with six in critical condition and six stable, and just a day later, six of those 12 had been released.
Those who went home had bruises and lacerations, while some had sore ankles and wrists. They were all treated released within two hours.
Darvey Koller, Medical Director of the ER in the children’s hospital, said finding out who each child was took a long time.
“They had no IDs with them when they arrived. None of the parents were present when they arrived. And they were all in uniforms when they arrived,” he said.
“Many were too scared and dazed to talk to us, and because of their young age, many of them were unable to spell their names, did not know their birth dates, or even their parents’ names. Several said ‘mama’ when they were asked what their name was,” Dr. Koller continued.
Doctors ultimately took photos of each child and showed them to teachers at Woodmore Elementary so they could figure out who the children were.
“We are heartbroken for all of our students and their families. Yesterday was the worst day that we have had for Woodmore and Hamilton County Schools that I can recall in my life as an educator and as a parent and as a member of the community,” Dr. Kelly said.
The superintendent also said while school was open Tuesday, grief counselors were on hand. Kelly stated that while there are still unanswered questions at this time, their priority remains with the students.
The bus driver was identified as Johnthony Walker, age 24. He has been charged with five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving.
“There may be more charges added as this case proceeds to the grand jury here in Hamilton County,” Fletcher told reporters.
Walker worked for Durham School Services and was contracted out to the school system. The company said Tuesday they are “devastated by the accident… that tragically claimed the lives of Chattanooga students.” Click here to read their statement see more about their history.
While the cause of the crash remains under investigation, the police chief said earlier in the day they are “very, very strongly” investigating speed as the primary factor.
The police department has also issued a warrant to remove the black box from the school bus and review the video surveillance inside.
The National Transportation Safety Board also traveled to Chattanooga on Tuesday to aid in the investigation.
The bus was removed from the scene early Tuesday, as was the tree it hit, and a memorial was started in their place. A fund has also been started for the families of those killed. Click here to donate.
There was an outpouring of thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families from across the state and country alike, from officials and athletes to celebrities and CEOs. Click here to read what they had to say.