CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - The city of Chattanooga is in mourning following a devastating school bus crash Monday afternoon that left five children dead.
It happened on Talley Road around 3:30 p.m. Monday. According to Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher, the bus was traveling from Woodmore Elementary School when it flipped onto its side and wrapped around a tree. It was the only vehicle involved in the wreck. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) arrived on scene early Tuesday morning to investigate what caused the crash.
Chattanooga police arrested and charged Johnthony Walker, 24, with five counts vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving. Chief Fletcher said more charges are likely as the investigation progresses.
In court papers, police said Walker was driving well over the posted 30 mph limit when he lost control of the bus. He was jailed on $107,500 bail for a court appearance next Tuesday.
Interim Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Kirk Kelly spoke outside the school early Tuesday morning and said the bus crash victims killed in the wreck were three fourth graders, a first grader and one kindergarten student.
Dr. Kelly said a total of 37 children were involved in the wreck. Twelve of those students are still in the hospital, with six of them in the ICU.
"The other students have been released to their parents and they are at home," Dr. Kelly said. "We are praying for them and wish them the best."
A vigil will be held Tuesday at 6 p.m. in honor of the young victims. It will take place at New Monumental Baptist Church in Chattanooga.
On Tuesday morning, the heap of mangled metal that used to be a bus was loaded on a trailer and taken away. A small memorial of flowers and stuffed toy monkeys lay in front of an area cordoned off with crime-scene tape and guarded by police.
Chief Fletcher said the families of the five victims who died have been notified, but their names and ages have not yet been released.
Authorities said since young children on the bus did not have any form of ID it was tough to identify them in the hospital setting, but Dr. Kelly said early Tuesday the 32 survivors have been accounted for.
Police said the bus had just dropped off eight children down the street before the crash happened. Photos posted by fire officials shows a bus on its side and a tree which apparently cracked open the roof; the bus came to rest slightly wrapped around the tree.
Neighbors said they believed the bus did strike the house, but ended up slightly mangled around the tree. Neighbors at the scene said the woman who lives in the home where the crash happened was visibly shaken, but was not injured.
“A bus crash involving school children is every public safety professional's worst nightmare, but it is also the thing we all train for. And you have police, fire, EMS and our partners out here doing everything they can to rescue victims and support the families of those who have already been treated,” said Chief Fletcher Monday afternoon.
"It is a complicated crime scene that covers a large area," said Chief Fletcher.
Following the wreck, the medical community has put out an urgent call for blood donations, especially Type O. A truck transporting an emergency supply of blood pulled up to the hospital shortly before 8 p.m. Monday.
A spokesperson for Blood Assurance, a regional blood bank, is asking people to schedule appointments throughout the week to help keep them in a steady supply.
Counselors were on hand for the students and staff as classes resumed at the elementary school. Pastor Tavner Smith and a dozen staffers of the Venue Church went to offer support.
"It's devastating," Smith said. "You send your kids to school and think you're going to see them that evening. We're really just praying for all the families right now, for what they're going through."
Many have taken to social media to share their thoughts and prayers with the victims and the community.