Driver in deadly school bus crash will likely plead not guilty

Bus driver Johnthony Walker

Bus driver Johnthony Walker

Chattanooga, TN (WSMV) — The attorney for the driver in a deadly Chattanooga school bus crash said her client will likely plead not guilty.

Johnthony Walker, 24 is charged with five counts of vehicular homicide. Police say another count will be added.

Meanwhile, surviving students at Woodmore Elementary School returned to school on Monday.

Hamilton County school officials held a news conference Monday, but made very little mention of Walker.

“Our hearts continue to be broken and we are deeply grieving,” said Woodmore Elementary Principal Brenda Cothran.

Though still very much in mourning, Hamilton County school officials said they’ve worked to make this Monday as normal as possible for surviving students.

“It was a good day for our kids,” Cothran said.

But neither the principal nor superintendent said anything about the several complaints from students, parents and the principal herself about Walker’s driving just days before the crash.

“I know many of you have questions about the bus driver, but we cannot make any further comments about the bus driver,” said Hamilton County Schools Interim Superintendent Dr. Kirk Kelly.

A letter from a student just days before the crash reads in part, “He drives too fast. It feels like the bus is going to flip over.”

Weeks prior to that, Cothran sent an email to the transportation supervisor saying, “The driver in my opinion was driving way too fast when he pulled out of the school.”

Days later, again, she wrote, “Six students reported Johnthony Walker was swerving and purposely trying to cause the children to fall.”

Cothran spoke briefly at Monday’s news conference.

“We had 15 counselors on site, five therapy dogs, hundreds of teddy bears and thousands of hugs,” Cothran said.

But several questions still remain, including what is protocol with these sorts of complaints and why weren’t they handled differently?

Channel 4 reached out to Hamilton County Schools Monday night to ask these questions, but had not heard back by deadline.

Five students remain in the hospital. Three are in critical condition. Two are in fair.

Officials said 292 students were back at school Monday at Woodmore Elementary. That’s an 85 percent attendance rate.