U.S. News

Driver in deadly Tennessee bus crash was speeding, holding phone

NASHVILLE (Reuters) - The driver of a school bus that crashed in Chattanooga, Tennessee, last month, killing six children, was speeding and holding a cellphone while he drove, police said on Thursday.

Johnthony Walker, 24, who police have said was driving the bus on Nov. 21 on a winding road well above the speed limit of 30 miles per hour (48 kph), has been charged with five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving.

A Hamilton County Criminal Court judge on Thursday said there was enough evidence to send the case to a grand jury.

“I do find the conduct to be reckless,” Hamilton County General Sessions Judge Lila Statom said. “There was a conscious disregard for the risk in this case.”

The bus veered off the road, flipped on its side and smashed into a tree, injuring over a dozen children in addition to the six killed, police have said.

Officials said on Thursday that Walker had been videotaped on the bus holding his cell phone while he drove, which is illegal for school bus drivers in Tennessee.

Electronic evidence, including readings from a GPS unit and engine monitor on the bus, shows the bus was traveling between “50 and 52 miles an hour,” (80 to 83 kph), Chattanooga Police Department traffic officer Joe Warren told the court on Thursday during a court appearance by Walker, who did not speak.

In addition, there were several caution signs saying that the road’s curves need to be negotiated at 20 mph, Warren said.

Warren described a video showing Walker holding his cell phone while he drove. Warren did not say whether Walker was using the phone at the time. The video was not shown in court. Warren said it was recorded by a camera inside the bus.

No drugs or alcohol were found in Walker’s system.

Walker’s attorney, Amanda Dunn, could not be reached for comment. She refused to comment to local reporters as she left the courtroom Thursday.

According to court records, Walker remains in jail on $107,000 bond.

Writing by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by Leslie Adler