#AceNewsReport – Dec.15: Chattanooga Police Officer Joe Warren testified during a 90-minute hearing about the investigation that led to the arrest of the driver, Johnthony Walker.
He said #police estimated the bus’ speed at the time at between 48 and 52 mph. The speed limit on the road was 30 mph. Warren also revealed in his testimony that there were three video cameras that recorded the inside of the bus.
“The videos are very disturbing and I don’t want to describe a whole lot,” said the 21-year department veteran, who estimated he’d investigated hundreds of deadly wrecks.
The videos showed Walker using his cellphone while children were on the bus while it was parked, Warren testified. He said police are sifting through 1,400 pages of Walker’s cellphone records for more information.
After the hearing, Hamilton County General Sessions Judge Lila Statom found there was enough probable cause to send the case to a grand jury. Statom, a judge since 2012, grew up in Chattanooga and is a former prosecutor, according to the state courts office.
Walker, 24, was initially charged by police with five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving. The grand jury can change those counts, add others or decline to bring an indictment against Walker.
About a dozen family members of the victims attended the hearing. One woman sobbed as Warren described the speed of the bus, which federal investigators had previously said was not on its designated route at the time.
Walker remains in custody and is represented by attorney Amanda B. Dunn, who argued Thursday that there were different accounts of how fast the bus was going at the time.
“There’s a whole lot that we don’t know at this time,” she said.
In questioning with Dunn, Warren confirmed that Walker helped at least two students off the bus after the crash.
The deadly crash rocked Chattanooga, but nowhere so much as the city’s working-class Brainerd neighborhood, where the families of the elementary students were left to grieve their loved ones’ deaths.
Six children died: 10-year-old Zyanna Janal Harris, 9-year-old Cor’Dayja Jones, 9-year-old Zoie Nash, 8-year-old Keontae Wilson, 6-year-old D’Myunn Brown and 6-year-old Zyaira Mateen. More than 20 of the 37 students on the bus at the time were injured.
Hamilton County General Sessions Judge Lila Statom. The driver involved in a crash that killed 6 children is expected to be in court Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016 (Photo: Stacey Barchenger / Tennessean)
Police said at the time Walker was driving at a high rate of speed on a winding, 30 mph road when the bus rolled, slammed into a utility pole and wrapped around a tree.
Warren testified Thursday that the first witnesses on the scene found the bus’ wheels still spinning.
As the city mourned, it came to light that students had complained about Walker’s reckless driving before, and the private company he worked for, Durham School Services, based in Warrenville, Ill., had a history of crashes in Tennessee.
Family members of the crash victims have filed several negligence lawsuits against the company, and more are likely.
This story will be updated….
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