A county school bus was involved in a tragic accident in Brainerd on Talley Road on Monday afternoon, and five children were killed and six others critically injured. Six other children were admitted to Children's Hospital and another 20 were treated and released.
The fatalities included four girls and one boy - one kindergartener, one first grader and three fourth graders.
Children’s Hospital at Erlanger confirmed as of 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 12 patients are hospitalized from yesterday’s bus crash, six in critical condition and six listed as stable. A total of 19 pediatric patients were treated and released from Children’s Hospital on Monday.
Late Monday night, the school bus driver was charged with five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving. He was identified as 24-year-old Johnthony Walker. He lives in an apartment on Shallowford Road. Walker is being held at the Hamilton County Jail on bonds totaling $107,500.
Police said he was traveling at a high rate of speed on curvy Talley Road, which has a 30 mph speed limit. He lost control of the bus and swerved off the road to the right. He struck an elevated roadway and mailbox, then swerved to the left and began to overturn.
The bus then struck a vehicle and a tree.
The Chattanooga Fire Department was involved in extricating victims who were entrapped.
Chattanooga Police Traffic Division investigators processed the scene overnight and were determining the sequence of events related to the crash.
Police said names of the children would not be released.
The Hamilton County DA's office earlier said several children were killed at the scene, and another died after being transported to the hospital.
The bus, which was carrying students from Woodmore Elementary School, wound up lying on its side crushed into a large tree.
Officials said that 35 people were on the bus and that 23 had been transported to hospitals. Rescue efforts were continuing, but the last person was extricated before 6 p.m. The children were aged kindergarten through fifth grade. Officials said the bus driver was cooperating with authorities.
The crash site was being treated as a crime scene. It was noted that the roads were dry and it was a clear day.
A warrant was secured in order to obtain the information box and videos from the school bus.
The wreck happened around 3:20 p.m. near the intersection with Midwoode Drive. No other vehicles were involved in the wreck.
Durham School Services operates most of the county school buses.
The National Transportation Safety Board was launching an investigation.
Woodmore and other county schools were to be open on Tuesday with a number of counselors available.
County school officials said Tuesday morning, "On Monday afternoon, Hamilton County Schools suffered the worst tragedy in recent history with the news of a fatal bus crash on Talley Road in Chattanooga.
"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."
Interim Supt. Dr. Kirk Kelly said, “I understand if parents feel it necessary to keep their students home from Woodmore Elementary today, “but want to once again remind everyone that extra trained personnel will be there to counsel and aid anyone seeking assistance in dealing with this horrible tragedy.”
Hamilton County Schools will provide additional support after today as its needed.
“Our next step as a school system in the coming days, weeks, and months is to work to heal as a community,” said Dr. Kelly.
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond said, “Earlier this afternoon, our community experienced a horrible tragedy when a school bus crashed off of Talley Road claiming the lives of multiple children and injuring others.
"We are deeply saddened for the family and loved ones who lost these precious little ones today.
"As the agency responsible for the School Resource Officer program in Hamilton County, my staff and I are deeply saddened by the loss of these young children. There are several families in our County that will not have their loved ones come home tonight and we as a community will feel the sadness and hurt from this event for a very long time to come.
"I am very proud of the Chattanooga firefighters, police officers, and Hamilton County EMS personnel who helped to rescue the injured. I am also very proud of the members of the HCSO who worked along side our city first responders.”
Governor Bill Haslam on Monday evening issued the following statement on the Chattanooga bus crash:
“Our thoughts and prayers are with victims of today’s tragic school bus crash in Chattanooga. It’s always a very sad situation when you have a school bus crash with children involved and we will do everything we can to assist the local authorities and the victims’ families.”
County Mayor Jim Coppinger said, "This is a heart-breaking day for Hamilton County. Our thoughts and prayers are with the children who were on the Woodmore Elementary School bus this afternoon, their families are also in our prayers tonight. The students of Woodmore Elementary are also in our thoughts and prayers this evening. I'd like to ask all Hamilton County residents to say a prayer tonight for all involved in today's tragedy."
Tennessee football coach Butch Jones said, "Devastating news coming out of Chattanooga. Thoughts and prayers with students and families of Woodmore Elementary School."
Colonel Tracy Trott, with the THP, said, "My heart goes out to the families of the children that were killed and injured in the school bus crash in Chattanooga this evening."
County Mayor Coppinger, City Mayor Andy Berke, interim Supt. Dr. Kirk Kelly, District Attorney Neal Pinkston, and several school board members were on the scene.
Dr. Kelly was set to hold a press conference update regarding the bus crash at 7 a.m. at Woodmore Elementary.
An announcement at the hospital directed all physicians and staff to remain on duty.
A text message went out to parents in Hamilton County: "We just wanted to inform you that Hamilton County schools faced a great tragedy today. School and county personnel are on scene of a bus accident on Talley Road in Chattanooga. Extra counselors and support staff will be on hand to help students process this horrible incident.”
Family members were asked to go to Woodmore Elementary for information on their children.
Blood Assurance asked for blood donations because of critical needs for blood. It was going to stay open an hour later until 7 p.m.
A number of children arrived by ground and there was also a Life Force helicopter in use.
Congressman Chuck Fleischmann posted a statement to his Facebook page that said, "My thoughts are with the young victims of the Woodmore Elementary School bus crash in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I am absolutely heartbroken over this tragedy and I will pray for the children and their families."
The officers, members and friends of the United Community Action Alliance, together with County Commissioner Greg Beck, said they would like to offer their condolences to the families of the children involved in the fatal bus accident carrying students from kindergarten through fifth grade.
The Alliance is a non-profit organization founded in 2015 by Commissioner Beck to represent Hamilton County Commission District 5 and serves approximately 34,000 constituents in Eastdale, Washington Hills, North Brainerd, East Chattanooga and Summit.
"Many of the affected families reside in District 5 and our prayers and sympathy go to all the families directly and indirectly impacted by this unfortunate series of events," Charline Kilpatrick, president, said.
An official statement from the Alliance said:
"After preliminary discussions with parents of the children injured and killed in the recent bus accident, it has come to our attention that a number of those families are single parent households. In response to inquiries presented to our members the Officers of the United Community Action Alliance, are calling upon responsible government and business interest to insure that the impacted families are afforded financial relief and assistance with the upcoming medical expenses and funeral arrangements.
"It is our position that it is incumbent on all responsible parties to be proactive in reaching out to these parents, guardians, caregivers and families to insure the necessary arrangements do not create a financial hardship on any of the victims of this tragedy."
Commissioner Beck said, "I would like to express my most sincere condolences to the families the were impacted by the school bus accident on yesterday. The news we received was heart wrenching to say the least and is a nightmare to our school system. We share the grief and sorrow along with the parents of the students lost, and we pray for the speedy recovery of the survivors of the accident. The monumental efforts of family counseling and site management by school board member Karitsa Jones, and area director Cheryl Randolph, did not go un-noticed. Our thanks to those first responders and police officers, city and county leaders, community volunteers and a host of Pastors from the area churches. It is at this time when Chattanooga and Hamilton County shines at its brightest. I would also bring attention to the absolute professional care and coordination of services rendered personally by CEO Kevin Speigel and his staff. The students and teachers at Woodmore Elementary will always remember the love and kindness and understanding sympathy expressed to them by all agencies involved. We can never be prepared enough for a moment like this, but we take comfort in knowing that when called upon, the Chattanooga family will always come together to meet any challenge that is set before us."
Professional Educators of Tennessee released the following statement:
"Children are a gift from God. In fact Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a child. Children are our nation’s greatest resource and a parent’s ultimate treasure. There is no comprehension possible on the loss of a child to death.
"As educators, we understand that children bless our lives, spark our love, and inspire our good deeds. Teachers choose to go into the field of education because they seek to make a difference in the lives of children and mold the future generations. Teaching is the noblest profession in the world.
"When tragedies occur like the bus crash in Chattanooga, it causes many to reflect on the lost lives, hurting families and incredible pain felt throughout the community. We also recognize the incredible response by people, often strangers who donate blood or engage in an act of kindness. From first responders, staff at the hospital, counselors in schools, to the entire community who have reacted with compassion, it highlights the best among us. Chattanooga proves that love is still the most powerful force on our earth.
"We do not understand why these children lost their lives or others are made to suffer. The deepest words are reflected in our writing, poetry and songs. But we recognize the futility of words alone. Time and again, we are made aware that our language lacks the suitable words to express the devastation that occupies our hearts or lasting scars on our psyche that arise from this tragedy. All we know to do is to offer our prayers to the families.
"On behalf of Professional Educators of Tennessee, our staff and our board, our organization expresses our heartfelt condolences to the parents who lost children in this tragedy. We encourage our members to continue to keep the community in their thoughts and prayers. We ask for support for the children still hospitalized and the children who were released. We ask that you consider a donation of blood, or to a charity in the community working with the families. This journey has just begun for them. To the education community, we understand your own emotional challenges and offer our support.
"In Agamemnon, the Greek poet Aeschylus wrote: “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.” This catastrophe (as many before) has caused us all to grieve. We will never and should never completely recover. Yet, together, we will somehow continue to find our way out of the depths of this despair. God bless the children of Woodmore Elementary School and Hamilton County. And may God continue to bless all the children in Tennessee."