Students, principal had complained about Chattanooga school bus driver

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Students, principal had complained about Chattanooga school bus driver

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Mark Humphrey
Mounted on a flatbed trailer, Woodmore Elementary School bus 366 is taken away from the crash site on Nov. 21. Six children died aboard the bus when it careened off the road and slammed into a tree and a telephone poll. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Ten days before six children were killed in a Chattanooga school bus crash, an elementary school principal complained about the driver’s speed, according to documents released by the school district.

Woodmore Elementary School students and at least one parent said Johnthony Walker drove too fast, slammed on the brakes and cursed in front of the children, Hamilton County school records show. The 24-year-old driver also had complaints of his own and told school leaders about discipline problems, including students who refused to sit down and cursed at him, according to notes sent to the district’s transportation director.

“On Tuesday, 11/8, the driver, in my opinion, was driving way too fast when he pulled out of our school,” Principal Brenda Adamson-Cothran wrote on Nov. 11. “It was not as bad as yesterday but it still was not optimal.”

On Nov. 8 and Nov. 9, Walker reported discipline problems on his bus, documents show, and provided school leaders with a photo of the students involved. The students were facing the back of the bus while in the seat, standing in the aisle and horse-playing, according to Walker. The driver expressed concern that the students might be injured when he applied the brakes. 

Then, on Nov. 16, Adamson-Cothran sent a follow-up email to Benjamin Coulter, the transportation director, citing more complaints from the students.

“Six students reported that the bus driver of the red bus (366) was swerving and purposely trying to cause them to fall today,” the note said.

On the afternoon of Nov. 21, Walker left Woodmore Elementary with 37 students aboard his bus. Minutes later, he lost control of the bus, running off the road on one side and back across before hitting a telephone pole and a tree, Chattanooga police said. The wreck killed six children and injured 30 others, including three who remained in critical condition late Monday.

Investigators have said Walker was speeding as he drove down Talley Road, a narrow roadway that was not part of his route, though neither alcohol nor drugs were a factor. He was arrested hours after the crash and charged with multiple counts of vehicular homicide. Walker is expected to be in court Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.

Classes resumed Monday at Woodmore following the Thanksgiving break.

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