Updates on deadly Chattanooga school bus crash

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WVLT/WDEF) -- A Woodmore Elementary School bus carrying 37 students crashed outside a home on Talley Road in Chattanooga on Monday afternoon, killing at least 6 students.

Officials say 23 children on the bus were rushed to Erlanger Hospital.
Chattanooga Police officials said Wednesday there are currently 6 school bus crash victims being hospitalized. The conditions of the patients were not released. Of the patients, several were young children who hospital officials say were too scared or dazed to talk to medical professionals. Doctors took pictures of the hospitalized children and showed them to Woodmore Elementary teachers in order to identify them.

Of the five killed, one was a boy, four were girls; three students were in fourth grade, one was in first, and the other was a kindergartner. No names have been released.

The school bus driver, identified as 24-year-old Johnthony Walker, has been charged with five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving. More charges could come as the case proceeds to a Hamilton County grand jury.

Chattanooga Police said toxicology reports show no trace of drugs or alcohol in Walker's system at the time of the crash. Warrants have been obtained for all data devices on the school bus. Video from the bus displaying front, back, and side views is being reviewed at this time by investigators.

"The type of accident we're responding to today, a bus accident with multiple injuries to children, is every public safety professional's worst nightmare, and as bad as it is for the police officers, firefighters, and paramedics working that crash and that investigation, we can't even begin to imagine how much worse it is for the families, the friends, the loved ones of the victims," said Chattanooga Police chief Fred Fletcher.

The Hamilton County Department of Education released a statement early Tuesday morning, saying, in part: "Our hearts and prayers are with the families, friends, and loved ones within our school community that were affected by this terrible tragedy. We mourn with the Woodmore Elementary School students and staff as they try to come to grips with this tragic incident. In light of the horrific crash, we have decided to keep all Hamilton County Schools open today to help the community with the grieving process. Additional grief counselors will be on hand to give aid and comfort to all students and staff."

Knox County Schools Interim Superintendent Buzz Thomas said, "Our hearts go out to the families and children impacted by the bus accident in Chattanooga. We have reached out to school officials there to offer our assistance, including a team of crisis counselors and on-the-ground operational help. Former Superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre has also graciously agreed to be available as needed. We encourage all Knoxvillians to remember our friends in Chattanooga as we gather in our homes and houses of worship this coming week."

A representative with the Chattanooga Police Department said the school bus was partially wrapped around a tree. Police Chief Fletcher said in a press conference that investigators had heard the bus may have also hit some sort of utilities pole, but he could not confirm any specifics.

In a tweet, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke called the bus accident, "horrible."

Governor Bill Haslam visited Woodmore Elementary School on Wednesday morning, "You're not supposed to have elementary classrooms with empty desks."

Governor Haslam commented that Chattanooga has had more than its share of tragedies and spoke of the state's reaction, "I think the whole state has reacted with incredible sympathy for the tragedy you guys are feeling."

"This is an absolute nightmare for this community, for this police department, for our partners in fire and EMS, but I can assure you that the public safety professionals in Chattanooga are prepared and trained to ensure that this is investigated thoroughly and in making sure that we have all the resources the families, the schools, and the communities need to respond to this tragedy and this trauma in a way that is appropriate for this grieving loss," Fletcher said.

Fletcher also said speed was "certainly" being investigated "very very strongly" as a factor in the crash.