Bus driver being charged in deadly Tenn. bus crash – USA TODAY
A bus carrying 35 children crashed Monday afternoon in Chattanooga.
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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. âÂ Just 24 hours beforeÂ Thanksgiving break, aÂ bus carrying 35 children crashed into a tree in Chattanooga on Monday, killing multiple elementary schoolchildren and hospitalizing nearly two dozen others, authorities said.
Police arrested the 24-year-old driver, Johnthony Walker, and are charging him with five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving, according to police. Chattanooga Police Chief Fred FletcherÂ said there may be additional charges later.
Rescue crews worked for hours to free children from the bus. Two bloodied students were placed on stretchers in a nearby front yard, whileÂ others walked away clutching their parentsâ hands,Â theÂ Chattanooga Times Free PressÂ reported.
Meanwhile, the twisted wreckage of the bus â nearly torn in two and wrapped around a tree off Talley Road in the Brainerd area in southeast Chattanooga âÂ remained in place Monday night as investigators began piecing together what happened.
“Our hearts go out …Â to the families, the neighborhood, the school, for all the people involved in this,” Fletcher said at a news conference.Â “We assure you we are doing everything we can.”
Fletcher said “speed is being investigated very, very strongly as a factor in this crash.”
He said there were no obvious roadway conditions that appeared to have led to the crash and that police are still investigating whether alcohol played a role.
FletcherÂ describedÂ the crash as “every public safety professional’s worst nightmare.”
The National Transportation Safety Board tweeted Monday night that a “Go Team” of investigators would deploy to the accident scene Tuesday morning.
The bus is operated by Durham School Services, according to spokesperson Carina Noble.
Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston told media outlets that five people died at the scene and one died at the hospital. Melydia Clewell, spokeswoman for the district attorney, confirmed the number. The Chattanooga Police Department did not confirmÂ the exact number of dead.
In a news conference Monday, Assistant Chief Tracy Arnold said there were 35 students from WoodmoreÂ Elementary School riding the bus ranging from kindergarten through fifth grade.
Images posted on social media also showed interim Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Kirk Kelly racing to the scene of the crash.
And blood donors rushed to Blood Assurance in downtown Chattanooga, where marketing coordinator Mindy Quinn said there was a line out the door.
The fire department described the crash sceneÂ on Twitter as “very serious” and Chattanooga’s mayor called it “horrible.”
This was the second bus crash in Tennessee in recent days involving dozens of students.
Nearly two dozen Chester CountyÂ Beta Club students on their way to a convention at Gaylord OprylandÂ wereÂ injured Friday morningÂ in aÂ crash after a school bus flippedÂ on Interstate 65 in Nashville.
None of thoseÂ injuries were life-threatening.
The governor saidÂ events like Mondayâs and last weekâs crash in Nashville could lead officials to begin additional talks about safety.
âTo me itâs a good discussion to have,â Haslam said. âI think when this is over itâs time to have a good conversation about everything around school buses.â
Nationally, school buses remain a safe mode of transportation. For example, from 2004 to 2013, U.S.Â drivers were involved in 340,039 fatal motor vehicle traffic crashes, according to theÂ National Highway Traffic Safety Administration(NHTSA). Of those, 1,214, or just .4%, were classified as “school-transportation-related,” involving a school bus or other vehicle functioning as a school bus that was transporting children to or from school or related activities, such as sports or field trips.
Kelly said schools will be open tomorrow, and Woodmore will have guidance counselors and other support available for students and staff, according to the Times Free Press.
“This has been a great tragedy for us,” Kelly said.Â “We have suffered a great loss today … one of the worst days we’ve had in our school community.”
Contributing: Joel Ebert, The Tennessean; Michael Patrick, Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel; WBIR-TV; Greg Toppo, USA TODAY, and The Associated Press. Follow Ariana Sawyer on Twitter: a_maia_sawyer
Some of the most deadly crashes in the U.S. have involved buses. Here are a few notable crashes through the years.