Witnesses Say School Officials Were Repeatedly Warned About Driver Of Bus 366

Monday, February 5, 2018
Jasmine Mateen
Jasmine Mateen

Three witnesses testified Monday at a Criminal Court hearing that county school officials were repeatedly warned about school bus driver Johnthony Walker.

Walker crashed School Bus 366 on Nov. 21, 2016, killing six students and badly injuring others.

He is set to go to trial on 34 charges, including six counts of vehicular homicide, on Feb. 27. The jury is to be selected in Montgomery County on Feb. 24.

Judge Don Poole said he will put down a written ruling on whether the jury will be allowed to hear witnesses speaking of prior driving incidents involving Walker.

He and District Attorney Neal Pinkston indicated the jury likely will not hear evidence of tension between the driver and students on the bus.

Defense attorney Amanda Dunn claimed that none of the evidence should be allowed to come in.

One witness said she saw Walker do almost a "donut" with students on board. He said he complained to school officials.

Brenda Cothran, who was principal of Woodmore Elementary School at the time of the wreck, said Walker was argumentative with students on the bus and was "immature in the way he handled" conflict with the students.

She said she filed several complaints about Walker with school officials, including then transportation director Ben Coulter. 

Ms. Cothran, who is now assistant principal at Ooltewah Elementary School, said, "I felt he was driving too fast."

She said, because of her concerns, she rode along on Walker's bus on one occasion. She said she could not recall how he was driving that day.

She told of taking video of Walker, who was 24 at the time and was working a second job at Amazon, as he sped away from Woodmore.

Ms. Cothran said on Nov. 9, 2016, Walker brought complaints about students on his bus facing toward the rear of the bus, standing and horse playing. She said, "He had concerns about student safety and about students getting hurt."

She said on Nov. 10, 2016, Walker again reported students standing on the bus, saying they would possibly get hurt.

Jasmine Mateen, who had a daughter killed in the bus crash on Talley Road in Brainerd, said she complained 20 times to school officials about the actions of driver Walker.

She testified, "I wrote letters to the schools, to the board of education, you name it."

She said she would take four of her children to the school bus stop at Shannon and Gillespie and would see him speeding and slamming on the brakes. She said he would make sudden stops, though nothing would be in the road.

She said she once had words with him at the bus stop after he "cussed at my kids."

Ms. Mateen said when she called about him "I would always get voice mail."




Brenda Cothran
Brenda Cothran

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